Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 - Going out with a bang

I am considering renaming this entire blog ‘The Dental Diaries’. I can’t begin to total the hours, not to mention the money that as a family we have spent on teeth during 2010. I have now got to the point that if I were to receive a call stating that one of the Drama Queens had had an accident at school, my first reaction would be “Oh God, not her teeth.”

The latest installment in ‘Have I got Dentures for you’ is that Husband, Drama Queen No. 1 and imported brother took a Hobie Cat for a sail on Wednesday afternoon. It was a stunning sunny day with enough wind to whip up white horses on the harbour and as they screamed across expanses of water at high speed, Husband opened his mouth in a shout of general exhilaration and joy at being alive on such a glorious day and promptly spat out his false tooth. The boating participants debated on the floating characteristics of plastic teeth but decided a denture overboard drill was destined for failure. He returned to shore looking very much the pirate on the loose, and yet again we were trawling through dental acquaintances, and the yellow pages (white pages in Australia), for as with Christmas Eve we had yet again hit a time when all good dentists shut up shop. Just for future reference I would like to note that the majority of Sydney dental practitioners go on what seems to be a group holiday returning to work on 17th Jan – which is a long time if you can’t open your mouth for fear of traumatizing complete strangers – not to mention your nearest and dearest. So if you spot a group of people in white swimsuits whooping it up together somewhere sunny – you’re probably looking at a whatever the collective name is for a group of dentists, a gnashing or a filling perhaps?

The good news is that we managed to find the lone dental technician in Sydney left to hold the fort and Husband has been restored to his former glory.

Not only is today end of the year, it also heralds a major shift in parent/child relationships in our household. This morning DQ no.1 passed the theory part of the driving test with the result that she can now, aged 16, hit the road with her ‘L’s on. She now has to complete 120 hours of supervised driving in order to sit her test at 17, which I regard as a long time for your life to flash before your eyes at regular intervals. I am already aware I am completely temperamentally unsuited to supervise anyone learning to drive as I fear my natural default position is one hand clamped over eyes and the other stifling incipient screams. I had a quick glance at the instruction manual and tips for supervising drivers and was interested to note that they suggest a second mirror so you can see the presumably frothing faces and gestures from drivers behind. Second mirrors are all very well but there is no mention of what I regard as far more important, the emergency brake.

One and half million people, including us, will be standing round Sydney Harbour watching the fireworks tonight. Have a fabulous New Year and the best start to 2011 and just pray DQ no.1 is right about the ‘How hard can driving be?’ and that 2011 doesn’t start with a literal bang so far as we are concerned.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Turkey wrestling for beginners

Have to say Round 1 on the turkey wrestling competition goes to me, though it has to be admitted the remains are still sitting reproachfully in the fridge waiting for me to be inspired to turn them into turkey curry or soup. A scenario that is as likely as snow in Sydney at Christmas.

Christmas Day was the most fabulous, jewel of a Sydney summer day, inspiring morning and afternoon swims at the beach and a very relaxed day. The good news is that to date only one of my relatives has been carted off to the emergency doctor with suspected food poisoning but to my relief the doctor declared it unlikely to be my seafood buffet as too much time had elapsed between oyster quaffing and illness. We are in fact having a fairly good round of emergency practitioners as on Christmas Eve we were invited to festive drinks with great friends, and I took round some cheese together with a fig and walnut roulade that I had bought to accompany the cheese as proof of my sophistication on the cheese and biscuit front. One bite of the roulade later and our host was searching for an emergency dentist open at 6.30p.m. on Christmas Eve to tend to his broken molar.

Medical and dental procedures aside, it has been a great Christmas with family peace only broken at regular intervals by the noise of a carefully placed fart machine thoughtfully given to Drama Queen No.3 by her godfather. Operated by remote control it is a guaranteed ice breaker at any social gathering.

Starting to contemplate resolutions for 2011. Reform on domestic front may be required as a result of overhearing Drama Queen No. 1 discussing with my mother safe hiding places for presents in the Christmas run up –the bottom of the ironing basket was suggested as somewhere that was completely safe from maternal visits.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The seven omens of Christmas

I have to say the omens for Christmas in the Ling household are looking good on a number of fronts.

1. The brother snowed in at Heathrow has escaped the icy clutches of the UK just in time and will arrive in Sydney on Christmas Eve.
2. The constant rain forecast for the Sydney summer has yet to materialize which gives an extra frisson of pleasure to every sunny day.
3. The dog, overcome by having so many people constantly around the house, has been extraordinarily well behaved, apart from an interesting episode where he vomited under the table during a meal with my parents.
4. Husband has just rung to ask what shoe size I am – this is a considerable improvement on last year’s last minute panic where he wanted to know the website address for a kitchen equipment supplier and also wondered what size I would be in a full length body stocking – I had images of receiving the kind of outfit the Playmate of the month might wear to whip up a soufflé – a type of bunny boiler so to speak.
5. The Economist magazine this week has banner headline, “The joy of growing old (or why life begins at 46)”, that I think I might frame and adopt for my motto for the year – feel remarkably smug at being endorsed in advance as it were by such a weighty tome.
6. I saw a sign yesterday that I feel should be a pointer to an excellent Christmas season ahead. It advertised a “Chocolate and Health Café” – obviously catering to all tastes – and perfectly fitting my own philosophy. I have tried the no chocolate route but to be honest I find a day without a Freddo, the small chocolate frog beloved by Australian children, and indeed adult expat imports, is a boring and bland day.
7. We have managed to reach family agreement on a suitable compromise for a Christmas meal in the heat incorporating both traditional turkey plus tuna tartare, oysters, prawns, roast potatoes, an avocado salad, Christmas pudding and Christmas ice cream cake. The menu is quite enough to ensure all participants end the day lying flat on their backs groaning gently. The only downside of this take a little of what you fancy approach is that Delia Smith fails to map out the whole thing which as I am the type of cook who follows the recipe with furrowed brow is obviously going to cause problems, but hey, how far wrong can you go with an avocado for heaven’s sake.

Merry Christmas – wherever you may be – and good luck with the avocados.

Friday, December 17, 2010

It's a Christmas bling thing

2010 has been the year of the dental and orthodontic procedure to the extent that I am anticipating a flood of white coat clad festive elves bearing Christmas hampers in grateful recognition of the Ling family contribution to the dental coffers.

Husband topped off the year by having the type of dental operation where they bandy around words like bone grafts, the sound of which is quite enough to make my bottom hurt. Once again this involved major doses of valium both to get him to the chair and to keep him there. Such is the power of modern dentistry, and strong drugs, that it went incredibly smoothly and I really don’t think he felt a thing.

I picked him up post procedure and was greeted by the sideways sway and enthusiastic smile reminiscent of one staggering out of the rugby club Christmas party. Holding him firmly by the hand I attempted to march him back to the car, but unfortunately he had other ideas. Impelled by goodness knows what impulse, as it is generally the type of store he has an immediate aversion to, he shot, or rather more accurately drunkenly meandered, past two security guards and into Tiffany & Co.. Once inside he circled the store, pointing out diamond baubles that caught his fancy and inquiring whether I would like one. Never have I been so torn, I could see the potential to give Lady GaGa a run for her money on the diamond bling front, but I could also see divorce beckoning when Husband woke up from his valium induced haze to discover he was $50,000 poorer – but with a very happy wife. Sadly my better nature triumphed and I managed to coax him out –and I am sure Tiffany & Co. are still pondering the security camera images of the coaxing process.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oprah and those Sydney photo opportunities

I was all set to start with a joyous paragraph of how the forecasters had been proved wrong yet again, as despite warnings of continuous rain, it has been relatively good weather in Sydney all week. However the news has been full of flooding in inland areas – absolutely typical you don’t see a drop of rain for 10 years and then the next thing you know you are perched on your roof waiting for Noah or the rescue helicopter.

To say it is great good fortune that the forecasters got it wrong so far as Sydney is concerned over the last ten days is putting it mildly – because after all this has been Sydney’s moment to be centre of the universe; the week that Oprah put the ‘O” into Sydney Opera House. The Australian Tourism authorities must be weak with relief, no point importing a superstar if the photo opportunities are only achievable with the aid of a large umbrella. As it is she has climbed the bridge, paraded outside the Opera House, got up close and personal with numerous bits of Australian wildlife, of both the native and thespian varieties, under brilliant sunshine and dazzling blue skies.

I feel for Oprah and her issues handling the more prima donna, couch Cruiser types on her show – I’m having a few problems in that directions myself. You would think I would have more sense than to let the Christmas photo become a democratically based committee decision. Just to put things into context, to most Brits sending out a photo of your family verges on the naff, whereas it is commonplace in America to treat one’s friends to a stunning image of your offspring or indeed whole family, often in matching outfits and sometimes with whimsical Christmas touches – dog in reindeer antlers gives you an idea on the whimsy front. Having lived in America for five years, I have to say I love and treasure my photo cards and love seeing everyone’s family change and grow – (reindeer antlers excepted). Being a typical hoverer on every fence in sight, I have over the years achieved a compromise position, I don’t do a photo card but I do stick a photo into the card, and am willing to defend my position on the grounds that as a serial expat there are lots of people who I call friends who haven’t seen my children for years and when we get to that glorious party where we all catch up, I would like them to have some glimmering of what those darling little toddlers they once knew now look like.

Normally I select a number of photos that I feel show the Drama Queens and Husband in best light, combine them into photo card and Bob’s your Uncle we’re off on the Christmas card production line. Fatal error to allow teenage input this year as they either select sultry shots, claim that everyone else’s photo is better, or photoshop themselves and/or siblings out of all recognition. We are now reaching the tipping point where if decision is not made soon the Christmas cards are going to morph into Valentine’s Day offerings – in which case perhaps the sultry shots may have more value – perhaps I should just settle for a self portrait with dog, both wearing antlers obviously.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hi, Low or Uni Brow?

To misquote and indeed twist horribly Charlotte Bronte’s immortal words, “Reader, I finished it.” To my amazement I managed to scamper over the NaNoWriMo 50,000 word mark on November 29th and have subsequently spent the last six days in a mental slump. I finished mid fight scene and so hopefully once I have recovered from the desire never to open the document again there will be incentive to continue, if only to decide which character is going to win.

One of the downsides of constantly writing was that I found I hardly read anything at all over the month. True to my basic low brow inclinations as soon as I finished I plunged myself into a Jilly Cooper which is akin to climbing into a warm bath with some chocolate and a large drink. I sometimes ponder the fact that the Drama Queen’s names are redolent of both two of the Bronte sisters, Charlotte and Emily, and also the titles of Jilly Cooper’s early novels, ‘ Emily’ and ‘Harriet’, which is possibly a reflection of my completely eclectic reading. Perhaps I could invent a new term to cover my middle of the road inclinations with the odd swerve into high and low – the uni brow?

On the high brow side of life we went to see ‘Uncle Vanya” by Chekov at the Sydney Theatre Company this week. This has been a much-trumpeted production, partly because of the presence of Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving in the cast. We had seen a really sparkling production of ‘Twelfth Night’ by Bell Shakespeare the week before to which we took the Drama Queens on the grounds that it is really liberating to realize that the Shakespeare texts that are drummed into one at school can be uproariously funny. Uncle Vanya had what might be best described as a ponderous majesty, but failed to engage me in the same way 'Twelfth Night' did. The highlight was definitely Cate Blanchett who in line with her character, glittered like a diamond, clad in the most amazing clothes. The red dress she wore in one act was quite enough to wake Husband and most of the male audience from any potential slumber.

In a glorious moment of serendipity I have come across a reference to Uncle Vanya in Jilly Cooper which merely proves the joys of being a uni brow, or perhaps that should be mono brow though that makes me sound like a teenage boy with no discernible break on the eyebrow front.

Rain, Rain and back for Rain again, is the monotonous refrain trotting round my head at the moment. Over the last week it has been announced that Sydney is in for the wettest summer this century, I am too depressed to enquire whether they mean for the 21st century in which case, worst out of ten doesn’t sound too bad or whether the forecasters mean worst in one hundred years which has a much more ‘Noah, where art you?’ type feel. Either way I can see that my leopard skin wellies are going to really come into their own and never mind the fact I’ve just had my toenails done. The other joyful pronouncement is that it is going to rain every day from now until March – and over the last week the weather certainly has kept on track for that batting average.

Talking of batting leads me into the Ashes – I thought the Sydney Daily Telegraph headline of ‘Our Pom Disposal Unit’ after the first day of the Brisbane Test was very clever but I have noted that the witty headlines seem to have dropped off as the England side have swung into ascendency.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Move over Movember

Blow those trumpets – the end is in sight! As of this evening I am up to 44,255 words and in racing parlance I’m rounding the last corner and heading into the home strait. For the first time I am beginning to feel I am actually going to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge and write 50,000 words in November. I am liking this image of myself of the sleek racehorse galloping to the finish and true to previous form I am completely disregarding the 5, 745 words I still have left to create and focusing on the champagne I am going to open on the evening of the 30th. Looking at the NaNoWriMo site where you log progress every day I observe some obviously driven and true writers have already completed their 50,000 words but you can absolutely bet your bottom dollar it will be 5pm on 30th before I finish. The only reason I say 5pm with confidence, rather than my more normal nerve wracking 11.59pm appointment with a deadline, is because I am already desperate to crack open that bottle and celebrate the fact I have actually done it.

November – or Movember as it is becoming increasingly known in Sydney is a big month for all kinds of endeavours including the sponsored growth of moustaches to raise money for male medical charities. As a letter writer called Rosie Lee remarked in the Sydney Morning Herald today there are so many moustaches round Sydney at the moment it feels like we are all starring in a 1970s cop show.

The one absolutely invaluable thing that NaNoWriMo has taught me is that if I want to write seriously then something in my life is going to have to give as there are just not enough hours in the day for family, job, dog, friends and writing 2,000 words a day on a permanent basis. I have managed to get through this month on adrenaline, neglecting all family members including dog and ignoring all household tasks but I am not sure this is sustainable. Apart from anything else my parents in the UK must assume I’ve died, as there has been complete radio silence from my end as I wrestle with my unsatisfactory imaginary teenager who just as in real life is completely failing to do what he is told.

There have been a few indications that things may be getting somewhat out of hand on the domestic front:
1. I have just found a dishwasher tablet in the fridge – this introduces the interesting question of what I put in the dishwasher.
2. The dog sensing he has been pushed down the pecking order for my attention has reacted by trying to recreate the Somme in the back garden complete with trenches and earthworks. Husband is waiting for one of the current excavations in the lawn to reach a suitable grave like size before extracting his revenge.
3. The washing has been hanging on the line for so long that when I took it in today I discovered a large spider had created a web between my shirts.
4. Personal grooming has dropped to a new low, hair has taken on yak like tendencies and if I don’t get a grip I might be giving those Movember guys a run for their money on the hair growth question (on my legs I hasten to add, rather than top lip before someone sends me their top tips on ripping and stripping moustaches.)

So roll on 30th November, which is coincidentally St Andrew’s Day, and like all good Scots I’ll be celebrating our patron Saint’s day, I might even be doing a little mini Highland Fling of my own just to give a little zest to the day before I reach for the champagne and razor.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Celebrate and pass the Kool Mints

Oh glorious day! I’m over halfway on my NaNoWriMo project, past the 25,000 mark and have had mini celebratory skip round kitchen. I am of course completely ignoring the fact that as today is the 19th of November that I am at least four days behind schedule. I should actually be about to get to 30,000 words today but I’m dismissing that as an awkward detail that’ll I deal with later. I am having flashbacks to my student days as I can see this whole project is going to come down to a last day sprint of about 10,000 words.

The omens for today were not looking good this morning when I emerged from shower, did first school run and then noticed that my hair was not just wet but positively slimy. I had, in an absent-minded moment that I would like to attribute to the trials of creative production, managed to put conditioner on my hair and then completely forgotten to rinse it out again.

Being time poor I then had to make the snap decision whether to spend the whole day looking as if I was auditioning for Snape’s understudy in Harry Potter with lank and greasy locks flopping round my face or should I should stick my head under the tap pronto. The tap option won and I staggered out of the house for school run number two and work, looking like a woman who had had a nasty accident with a rain barrel.

Australian politicians are providing me with lots of amusement at the moment. I listened to Julia Gillard the Prime Minister being quizzed on the relationship with Barack Obama and USA. Her assessment of the situation was that the two countries were ‘Great Mates’ which made it sound as if we all pop off to the pub together for a quick drink on a regular basis. I am not quite sure President Obama is fully cognizant of his role as ‘Great Mate,’ it may partly explain why he has yet to hit the Australian shores.

In the run up to the festive season the ex Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett shared his top tip for avoiding detection in the random breath tests that are a major feature of Australian roads, particularly at weekends. Apparently he keeps a packet of Kool Mints in his car and if he ever feels he is close to the limit, he just pops one in and hey presto it mops up the alcohol. Apart from the general rush to the sweet aisle in the supermarket to procure some magical Kool Mints, the other completely predictable outcome has been the press conference held by the Victoria Police to debunk the myth before they were faced with legions of alcohol impaired drivers reeking of mints.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sculpture by the Sea, Jacarandas and purple prose

Feeling triumphant as am up to 18,128 words as of last night. There is however the slight problem that today is the 15th of November eg halfway point so presumably 25,000 words is an indication of roughly where I should be. I can see there are going to be a lot of hot evenings spent sitting at the computer wondering what my character is going to do next. The answer so far is very little – husband suggests I need to add car chase, guns and sex in order to ensure I am creating a future bestseller. I counter that it is a writing exercise rather than a novel production line and anyway I can’t worry too much about plot as I am so stressed about the fact that my main character who is supposed to be a 15 year old boy speaks in the voice of a 45 year old woman – funny that – or not funny in the case where you are trying to create believable dialogue.

To move off the self indulgent navel gazing – or surely novel gazing in this instance, I have to report that at long last it has stopped raining and we have just had glorious hot weekend. I had my first swim of the year down at Balmoral Beach. I’m very easy to spot in the water as I’m the one doing the good old Pom breast stroke, head held high above water level.

One of the most vibrant signs of early summer in Sydney is the jacaranda trees which are in full purple flower at present. Purple never seems a very normal colour for a tree, this particular shade puts me in mind of one of Dame Edna’s more enthusiastic blue rinses, but the jacarandas do look absolutely stunning against a clear Sydney blue sky.

Sculpture by the Sea is another sign that summer has really begun. This is an annual event where the coastal walk between Bondi and Tamarama is transformed into a sculpture exhibition. The coastline is the most spectacular setting for all the sculptures. Husband took last Monday off and we spent a very happy morning, battling the crowds (goodness knows what it was like on a Saturday given the amount of people at 10a.m. Monday) and wandering along the path, gazing at all the sculptures. We were blessed with the kind of day where the sky glittered blue and gave an extra dimension of vibrancy to all the art. I've posted some of Husband's photos to give you an idea of the range of sculptures.

I always find the range of artistic imagination totally amazing and I think the concept of a temporary sculpture park is brilliant. It finished this weekend and the organisers reckon that over 400,000 people walked through the exhibition which I think is pretty good for a modern art festival.

I now feel revved up by all that artistic effort and achievement and as the chances of me being able to sculpt anything other than a poor imitation of Tracey Emin's unmade bed are pretty remote, I'd better return to my own particular artistic creation, the strangely mature and female sounding, teenager.

Monday, November 8, 2010

If madam would care to try this very fetching little mouthguard

Quick update on progress on both teeth and NaNoWriMo, both continuing to be major pains in my life, and arguably self inflicted.

In the case of the teeth, my problems apparently arise partly from the fact that I grind my teeth in my sleep like some kind of demented monkey searching for a nut trapped in its gnashers. This grinding is a sign of stress, so the dentist tells me, and she is helpfully about to provide me with the ultimate romantic gadget, a mouthguard.

I am struggling with the image I might present to a surprise visitor to the bedroom, the ultimate burglar deterrent, a woman in slinky negligee wearing mouthguard – actually I am making up the negligee bit, but even so who wants to go to sleep feeling like a member of the All Blacks front row? I was presented with the choice of did I want it on my top or bottom teeth - obviously the answer was neither, but I feverishly and vainly lay in the chair trying to imagine which might look better. Do let me know if you've a strong opinion.

The good news is that having been absolutely hopeless on NaNoWriMo, to the extent my scoreboard is filled with yellow and orange lights indicating that on given days I’ve failed to hit my allocated word target of 1,666 and horror of horrors one red light indicating bugger all was done that day, I now have a beautiful green light glowing for today as I managed over 2,200 words – mainly by describing my characters in such lurid and extended depth in a way that would have any decent editor reaching for the sick pail let alone the red pen. However the beauty of NaNoWriMo is they say don’t attempt to edit – do it in December. Ho Ho Ho is my response to that one.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Word count up - remaining teeth count down

Haven't figured out word count widget yet - but up to 2,218 words -total rubbish but I am feeling a slight glow of achievement. I am however slightly downcast by the knowledge they won't allow you to type out the same word -and I am thinking four letters here- 50,000 times as I could see that could have been my last resort.

In terms of getting my teeth into this particular project, the bad and frankly unbelievable news is that the dental saga continues. To recap, 45th birthday dawns Saturday, half tooth falls out during virtue filled flossing session. I see dentist on Monday for good news that this is going to be a major time and financial commitment involving me and my bank account spending great chunks of time in her surgery, if I don't want to be reduced to spending the second half of my forties sucking soup through a straw. Dentist not quite as poetic as this, but you get drift. Stagger out of surgery. Survive 24 hours without major dental incident. Buoyed up by false confidence eat left over Halloween candy - the Australian Mintie which should carry a dental health warning. To be frank I did know about their dreadful teeth mashing reputation as the Drama Queens' Orthodontist has banned them as death to braces, but in a devil may care moment I shoved one into my mouth and set off for calming walk with dog. Have to report it was as calming as electric shock treatment as approximately two chomps later I discovered hard, white, non Mintie lump adhering to Mintie and realised part of a tooth from the other side of my mouth had fallen out. I can hardly say that the situation is moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, as so far as I am concerned there was nothing sublime about the first tooth - but there is definitely an element of farce about the whole thing and I now hardly dare open my mouth for fear of showering my nearest and dearest or indeed complete strangers with stray bits of dental enamel. I need hardly say I can't wait for the next manifestation of old age - also known as which bit of my body is going to give up next. Had I known what a milestone 45 was going to be I'd have had a damm good party beforehand.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Write Stuff or perhaps more appropriately The Write to Die!

I have been inspired by the fabulous Kate Lord Brown on her blog to take a leap into the dark. In a ‘put up or shut up’ challenge to myself I have joined the American NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month group. ( The idea, which seems frankly laughable from my current perspective, is that during the month of November (which in a cruel twist of fate is only 30 days long) you write 50,000 words.

Somewhat predictably in the 8 hours since I signed up this morning. I have:
a) Mooned about panicking that we are already halfway through the 1st of November in Sydney whilst it hasn’t even started in the US;
b) Consumed a giant packet of chocolate buttons in an effort to kick start the muse
c) Gazed at the pouring rain, cancelled family photo shoot scheduled for this afternoon as feel shots of family group on the beach wearing wellies and morosely sharing umbrella are not how I want to remember our time in Sunny Sydney
d) Continued to watch rain whilst secretly rejoicing that surely netball must be cancelled this evening – there must be limits to these female netballers’ keenness after all
e) Read NaNoWriMo hints which include the following gem:

Tell everyone you know that you're writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who've had to hear about your novel for the past month. Seriously. Email them now about your awesome new book. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

So there you are – I have told you all – roll on personal humiliation! I will try and post the word count widget at the top of the blog so you can jeer and cheer at appropriate moments. I can’t actually decide whether this insanity means that I will be posting endless blog posts during the month as the ultimate in procrastination or whether it will entail complete radio silence.

At the moment my biggest problem is trying to decide whether I revisit a draft of a novel I tried to write in the US focusing on marital infidelity - always a goodie – or whether I try and go for something completely new – the advice from NaNoWriMo is go completely new – apparently much more exhilarating and liberating – apart from the fact my mind is a complete blank. Time to do or die and hit that first minimum of 1,000 words a day.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Teeth and the cake

Yesterday was my birthday – pause for a quick roll of drums. Amazingly I seem to be 45. I say amazingly, as in my mind I am just past my student days, a mental aberration which is intensifying as I read my way through Stephen Fry’s, ‘The Fry Chronicles’, detailing his life at university.

The past fortnight has been in the nature of an ongoing festival of parties, dinners and outings for all sorts of occasions to the extent that I rather feel as if I have been on a celebratory high for weeks, so yesterday’s birthday came as a culminating moment. I had a lovely day and felt very spoilt and cosseted by the human members of my family.

The dog, in contrast, rose to the drama of the moment and leapt onto the kitchen table where he devoured the remaining half of my birthday cake – he spent the rest of the day lying his basket looking very sick and sheepish – as well he might. Irritating though he is in many ways, he is not normally a food stealer, knickers yes, food no; but he does have a bad track record on the birthday cake front having previously guzzled his way through a significant portion of a lavish cake made for my mother. Unfortunately, on that occasion he got to it before any one else did. Fortunately, it was a square cake and with a few flicks of a large knife that I had seized with the intention of disembowelling the black fiend, I was able to convert it from a square to a circle, albeit with interesting markings round the edges where I had attempted to disguise the canine teethmarks.

Birthday euphoria vanished pretty quickly however as I flossed my teeth this morning – a birthday always brings on a raft of new resolutions such as regular flossing I find. To my horror, during this particular flossing frenzy, half a tooth fell out. This has not unnaturally sent me into a morose tailspin with my thoughts running along the lines of this is what happens once you cross the 45 year old line – your teeth fall out. Have therefore decided to abandon all the healthy living birthday resolutions such as flossing as they obviously only usher on the inevitable at speed – instead I am going to focus on the good living resolutions which will definitely be more fun emphasising as they do, wine, chocolate, and regular bouts of hysterical laughter and wild partying.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Brad Pitt and I, we're just so alike

I am currently on true missionary form – in my case this fever overcomes me when I find a book I love and am not happy until I have given a copy to everyone I know, and/or persuaded them to read it. Brother no.2 has already received his birthday copy and the remainder of the male members of my family better brace themselves for the oncoming thump of delivery. I specify male members of my family, partly because I am long on male relations with three brothers, but also because I am always delighted when I find a book that I think has universal appeal. I am not being sexist on this but I do think men and women do in general read predominantly different books.

The chosen book is ‘The Tiger’ by John Vaillant – a non-fiction account of the hunt for a man-eating tiger in a remote area of Russia. It couldn’t have sounded less like the type I thing that I normally enjoy but I was lured into the purchase by my fabulous local bookshop Pages and Pages. In a plug for independent bookshops, though I do admit to the occasional guilt ridden brief fling with Amazon, in the end I love having a local bookshop with staff who read the books with enthusiasm and persuade you into the unknown.

The book is set in a region that immediately had me reaching for the atlas as to my shame I had never heard of it before – Primorye Territory – and if you are smirking with pleasure that you can pinpoint the place on a map, all I can say is that you were paying more attention than I was when the topic of the Russian Far East regions was covered.

What I found most extraordinary about the book was that it recounts the events of December 1997, but as I was reading it I felt as if I was entering into another time, perhaps a century ago, rather than reading about things that were happening thirteen years previously. Descriptions of daily life and the background of participants in the drama create a world that was different in almost every respect to one in which I was inhabiting in London in 1997.

I am now completely exhilarated to find that Brad Pitt’s production company bought the film rights to ‘The Tiger’ back in August, and I feel vindicated in my enthusiasm for the book. Obviously I am not going to go head to head with Angelina on the physical front – am happy to hand that crown over graciously, but it is a comfort that Brad and I have got literary enthusiasms in common.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Snow and Rain - must be time to do the Time Warp again

I can hardly move – and I can report, with a note of triumph in my voice, that this is not because of the stresses and strains of the debut netball game, nerve wracking and physically challenging though that was. The muscle burn out is actually as a result of over enthusiastic dancing last night. We have been uncharacteristically social over the last couple of weekends, with a Financial Markets dance last night in Melbourne and a surprise 50th for a great friend last weekend. The band at the dance last night judged their target market pretty accurately in terms of playing songs that were guaranteed to have the comparative oldies mouthing along. We finished up with the Rocky Horror Show and ‘Let’s do the Time Warp again” which brought back vivid memories for me of being a teenager in Glasgow and lining up as a gang to ‘Jump to left’ and ‘Step to the right’ the all the way down the hallway at one particular party.

Last week’s Birthday Bash was held in a shearing shed in Mudgee, a country town about 3 ½ hours outside Sydney, renowned for food and wine. The omens were not looking good as we drove out to Mudgee over the Blue Mountains. I assumed the large white flakes whirling around the car were some bizarre type of Antipodean blossom, it transpired however that we were travelling through a snow storm. Australia does get snow – witness all those devastatingly good looking Aussie ski instructors haunting European ski slopes, but not usually in October. Australian snow also generally falls in places like the evocatively named Snowy Mountains, those early explorers not being lost for a descriptive name or two, rather than the outskirts of Sydney. Turning the car heater to full, I mentally reviewed my outfit for the shearing shed shindig – and tried to work out whether the trusty black dress would lend itself to layering with every other available garment in my overnight bag including pyjamas – fortunately also black. In a moment of foresight based on a pretty grim forecast of low temperatures I had unearthed a pair of cashmere tights my mother gave me some years ago – I think probably when we lived in the coldest house in the world in Rye, New York, as I can’t think even in the most absent minded moment she would have judged them a suitable gift for the Sydney climate. As it was I shouldn’t have lost faith with our hostess who had imported heaters and created a spectacular, romantic setting for the evening.

Snow aside it has been a red letter week on the weather front for New South Wales, the state of which Sydney is the capital – I do apologise for treating everyone as geography retards but I am never sure who knows what about the Australian state and federal set up – though I am anticipating that after Oprah transfers her whole show down under in December, Australia will move centre stage on the American radar. Anyway back to the weather – this week New South Wales moved 100% out of drought. Given that since 2001 there have constantly been districts suffering drought or rated as marginal, and that this time last year 95% of the state was judged to be in drought, suddenly being flush with water is an amazing concept and there are stunning pictures of areas of wetland and marsh in central districts flooding, with bird and plant life miraculously being restored.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Netball and the woman

I am about to enter into a new era – I don’t know if you have ever noticed that in surveys there are a number of cut off points and one of the key ones apart from gender is that those aged 44 and under are generally grouped separately from the geriatric 45 and over. Having always mentally classified myself as a ‘bright young thing’, it is something of a shock to discover I am teetering on the edge of the '45-60’ group.

One of my resolves as I get older is that I should try something new each year and step outside that famed comfort zone revolving round a good book in the bath. I can see the danger in this approach as previous efforts in this direction have resulted in bedroom cupboards stuffed with enthusiastically trialled, and now completely abandoned objects. The half finished tapestry celebrating the marriage of Charles and Diana gives you an example of the kind of time scale of hobbies gained and lost I am talking about here. Other mementoes include knitted scarves in the early stages of germination, basic Japanese grammar books and yoga mats.

Part of my angst on the age front is because I am off this evening to play my first Seniors Netball match. The first time one is classified as a ‘Senior’ is a somewhat shocking experience – what’s wrong with calling it ‘In Her Prime’ Netball for goodness sake?

I am in fact completely petrified as I have never played netball in my life – howling gales and prevailing winds dictating that hockey was the more popular option in my Glaswegian school career. Not only have I had to squeeze myself into a tight fitting lycra number with a skirt so short that my thighs have turned pale from fright – and I have visions of spectators having to cover their eyes in horror, but worst of all I have very little idea what to do with the ball if by evil mishap it is thrown in my direction. Over some years of spectating at respective Drama Queens’ games I have gained some idea of the rules. One of the main areas of concern, apart from my rudimentary ball handling skills, is the rule that within netball once you have caught the ball you have to come to a pretty immediate halt - or be blown up by the umpire for ‘stepping’. I can tell you right now that if I am hurtling down the court at full speed and have the misfortune to connect with the ball, given I am a creature of some momentum, there is no way in the world I will be able to come to a complete halt – it would be like pushing a fridge down a 45 degree slope and expecting it to stop and pirouette.

You can tell how unnerved I am by the whole prospect in that I have done a complete 360 degree turn on the procrastination front. Usually I do anything else rather than sit down and write, washing baskets get emptied, suppers half cooked, nit checks performed, toenails cut – you get the picture. By contrast here I am writing when I should be climbing into the netball outfit – anything to delay the evil lycra donning hour - perhaps growing old gracefully might be a happier option?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Coffee and a bookshop. What does it for you?

Amazingly we have just notched up a world record in terms of address book entries for the Lings. As of August we will have lived in the same country for over five years which beats our previous record set in London nine years ago. I am actually feeling rather unsettled by this realisation, though I would hasten to add I have no desire to start back into the rounds of international manoeuvres and jump yet again into another strange school system complete with a maternal dress code that I am guaranteed to fail.

Thinking about our various moves has made me realize that there are a number of factors that I now regard as essential to my domestic harmony on the expat circuit – or to be more particular what keeps me happy, in the sense of where we live. Obviously the biggest factor is going to be friends but there are a number of physical elements that really drive what makes a house, home for me and by implication the family.

So here goes in no particular order with my wish list for wherever we live:

Must be near an international airport for those inevitable Thelma and Louise escape type fantasies that I run in my head. There is no point imagining myself flinging open the taxi door and shouting grandly, “Take me to the airport and make it snappy” if it is going to take three days to get there.

Likewise got to be close to a bus stop or train station. Had I wished to qualify as a taxi driver I would have done something about it by now. I have no desire to qualify merely by default, based on the number of hours shuffling teenage members of the family to and from their social and sporting engagements.

Top of the list has to go to a café or coffee shop to which I can escape with book/newspaper on a regular basis. The quality of the coffee is not actually a prerequisite on this one, witness I spent a great amount of time in America in Starbucks. In Sydney where they take their coffee seriously I am spoilt for choice, though I have to do a plug for my current favourite, Arena’s Deli in Mosman where I get a fabulous life reviving cup of coffee every morning, and a chat with Joseph the affable proprietor as a bonus.

Being walking distance from a library, post office and bookshop is something that has always been high on the list. I am now adding in close to a decent cinema. We have a fantastic local independent cinema, complete with a Wurlitzer organ to add to the impressive atmosphere.

I also love being close to the sea, coming from the UK where you are always relatively close to water, I think I would find it hard to live somewhere completely landlocked. Sydney Harbour is a back drop to my daily life at the moment and gives a boost to my day whenever I glimpse it – even on a grey, morose day like today.

Having looked back at the list – I can now see I am calling down the hands of fate and it is guaranteed the next place I will find myself living will be in the midst of a Mongolian Desert and how you will laugh at the thought of me looking wistfully round the steppes (not sure I am geographically correct here) for the nearest library and coffee shop.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tact and the Man

Women are apparently reputed to use a far greater number of words than men on any given day. I have come to the conclusion that most of this is attributable to the fact that women generally think before they speak, engage brain as it were, and also try to convey any negative message as gently and humanely as possible.

It may have been some 11 years ago but I still remember with blinding clarity the young male doctor at one of the big London hospitals with whom I was discussing whether Drama Queen No. 3 should be induced as she was showing signs of being big and late just like DQ Nos. 1 and 2. I mentioned I didn’t want to be induced if it heightened my chances of having a caesarian. The doctor flicked me a quick glance and responded with the flattering remark, “Oh no, I find women of your age are a bit like old bangers. Once you get them cranked up, they just keep rolling.”

Fortunately by 39 weeks pregnant you are not at all sensitive as to how you look, other than large, however I have always cherished the vision of myself as an ‘old banger’ and look at car scrap metal yards with a certain fondness and kindred spirit.

As a run up to the sailing holiday, I mentioned to Husband, in the tone of one proffering a rare treat, that I might get a bikini to replace the boring one piece. Instead of the expected glint of excitement in his eye and skip in his step, his brow furrowed and he said in a worried tone, “Won’t you need to shave off the body fur?” Aside from making me feel I should check myself into the Sydney Taronga Zoo Chimpanzee enclosure, double quick time, it has also had me checking my stomach in the mirror for fear of that obviously new and horrible manifestation of my 40’s, female stomach hair. I need hardly say he’ll be lucky to see an inch of uncovered flesh in the near future.

Other great sayings have included musings on the fact that apparently I do, “tend to swell up like a balloon”. In the interests of fairness I would admit that this statement is probably true, once you add in the puce with rage factor brought on by this candid assessment.

In the interests of family harmony – here’s my top tip to beleaguered males. The correct response to an unfamiliar dish appearing in front of you is not a suspicious poke and a muttered, “What’s this?” A cheery smile and, “This looks delicious. What is it?” will win the day. N.B. this approach can also be applied with notable success to new female outfits, no matter how startling to the male eye they initially appear.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Three Men (and Seven Women) in a Boat

Apologies for the radio silence due to a week’s sailing, and let me tell you after a week bobbing around on a boat I am now a dab hand at radio procedure. I can ‘Over’ and ‘Out’ with the best of them, though I am reliably informed that ‘Over and Out’ as a combined phrase marks you out as a sad landlubber. It’s my observation that sailing is filled with rules like this – not to mention vocabulary – for example if somebody in normal life said, “Tighten the Vang” to me, I’d be giving them a very nasty look indeed.

This is the fourth year that we have headed up to the Whitsunday Islands just off the Australian Great Barrier Reef in early October. It is the most stunning region in which to sail, with forested islands dropping steeply down to pristine beaches and rocky coastlines. The snorkeling is fabulous, at times you float in a cloud of fish and this year a turtle cut across me so close that we both jumped. The only slight downside is that owing to the very low risk of potentially deadly jellyfish we all end up wearing stinger suits – this year we kitted ourselves out in some all in one all black numbers complete with hoods. gloves and socks – suffice to say we looked like a bizarre cross between a SAS troupe and a band of Ninjas. Vanity, (and a big bottom), prevents me posting a photo, provisionally entitled ‘Thing One’, of myself in the kit, however as compensation I have provided you with a photo of the junior Ninja troupe storming a kayak.

This year we managed to persuade another family to join us for the week. I think we all approached the great nautical adventure with some trepidation; there is something unnerving about the thought of squeezing 10 people into the type of space more suited to an intimate embrace than a full on dual family holiday. It had all the potential for a sink or swim situation on the friendship front. However I have to report we managed to survive what we later discovered were common identified make or break situations for boat discord, namely snoring (though this one is a hands up from Husband as I am sure it wasn’t me), dodging chores, inability to cope with boat loos and their quirks – on which note I have a vivid memory of one of the Drama Queens at a tender age emerging from a pub loo in the UK after a week’s sailing and asking in a loud voice what she should do with the used loo paper, it’s amazing how a small child’s voice can penetrate a beery haze. We did however break the record this year on amount of water used– the high teenage girl ratio ensured multiple options on the shampoo/conditioner front. We also might have gone for the record in terms of cases of wine delivered to boat

In the enthusiasm of the booking the boat I overlooked the key point that the sleeping arrangements were going to ensure Drama Queen No.1 was going to be bunking down on the saloon table – a convertible table, though if it was a car we’d be talking a convertible Lada rather than Porsche in terms of comfort. She had baulked initially at the thought she might be sharing said table with small boy, however by the end of the week I worked out that owing to nightly movements of children/skipper/ and parents outed from their own berth by said children, all scruples had vanished and she ended up sharing the table with at least 4 out of the potential 9 candidates on a rotating basis.

The downside was that the weather, that after three perfect years of blue skies and dazzling sunshine we rather took for granted, was in contrast at times a tropical grey monsoonal sky with lots of wind and rain. The upside was that for the first time we saw whales, a mother and calf played around close to our isolated anchorage. Sitting in the dinghy, it was so quiet you could hear the exhalations as the whales spouted, at risk of sounding like an American Express advert – Priceless.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Desert Island Disc Diva

My snapshot of the day is the man who was probably in his mid twenties who paddled into the beach on his kayak at 6.30 a.m. this morning. Watched with fascination by my fitness group he proceeded to towel himself down, change into his suit, put on his cufflinks, comb his hair using the wing mirror, jauntily stick on his sunglasses and drive off in his BMW, kayak strapped on top. I am ashamed to say we all looked at each other and went as one “Real Estate agent”.

It really dates me that I can talk about being an expat before email, Skype and the Internet shrank the world. When we lived in Hong Kong in the early 1990s the mother of one of my great friends, used to tape the BBC Radio 4 soap “The Archers” and send it out to her, which seemed to me the height of maternal devotion.

Nowadays I stream Radio 4 through the Internet and pick and mix my way through programmes. My current addiction is a Radio 4 Desert Island Discs programme that I have been listening, and relistening to, that focuses on Jimmy Mulville, the UK comic and writer. (
Such is my grip on popular culture I have to confess I had never heard of him before, but I have to now admit to a major long distance radio crush on the man and want him as a friend as he sounds such an interesting and entertaining person. Family and friends are obviously very important to him and one of the most moving bits of the interview was when he talked about his group of friends who all get together once a week. Another great point in his favour was that he chose David Bowie’s ‘The Jean Genie’ as one of his records which was enough to have me bopping round the kitchen with enthusiasm – try not to visualize this scene. I was actually supposed to be on a breakfast banana pancake production line at the time, fortunately the smoke alarm was enough to rouse me from a re-enactment of the dance moves that cleared the floor quite literally during my teenage years. The house has been reverberating to Bowie ever since, causing groans of despair from the Drama Queens.

Being a complete egotist, I have now been amusing myself considering what to include on Desert Island Discs when I am invited on – Dire Straits ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and Lou Reed ‘Perfect Day’ would be up there, along with “Flower of Scotland’ as roared out by the crowd at Murrayfield as the Scottish Rugby team run on. Sibelius’ ‘Finlandia’ would bring back memories of studying for ‘A’ levels, whilst Chris De Burgh’s ‘Patricia the Stripper’ would immediately conjure up late night student parties during my first year at university.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Swinging from the chandelier

Divorce may be on the cards. I am eyeing the phone with a fair amount of nervousness, waiting for the moment when Husband, who has just arrived at his parents in the UK after a flight from Asia and a three hour drive from Heathrow, discovers the ‘small’ package that I am hoping he will bring back to Sydney.

I fear I may have fallen prey to my greatest sin, over ambition on the luggage front. I am not sure I have much confidence in Husband’s ability to hold back on the bad language when the man from Tesco Direct staggers up his parental driveway later on today clutching the supposedly miniscule package. It actually contains a glass chandelier – or more accurately a chandelier made out of 37 wine glasses. Hopefully this should provide a link to a picture of it in all its glory:

The product notes re. the chandelier, which by the by, I think will be a thing of beauty and jolly useful when we run out of glasses, say it requires self assembly but even in my most optimistic mood I can’t somehow see how 31 glasses can be flatpacked. I have a sneaking suspicion that even if Husband nobly lugs the large box round London and onto the plane, by the time it reaches Sydney there may be a certain chipping and tinkling sound more characteristic of a traditional cut glass chandelier.

I have in fact caved and sent Husband an apologetic email suggesting that if he feels he and Qantas will be unequal to the transport operation that he sends it seamail – in which case if we are lucky it might get to us for Christmas and lead to a new party game for all the family involving industrial quantities of glue.

I am aware of the insanity of my actions (thought I’d better get that bit in before the phone goes) – my only excuse is that I think I have fallen prey to that expat malaise where you suddenly feel cheated that you can’t access normal parts of your home country’s life and you irrationally long for a delivery from Pottery Barn or Tesco both of whom remain resolutely domestically minded in their delivery policy– so let’s hear it for the companies like Marks & Spencer, Boden, Land’s End and LL Bean that deliver internationally – you’ve made many an expat very happy!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Catch me a Ranga and other great Aussie slang

I love the way language and slang is a constantly evolving art form. When we first came to Sydney in 1991, the two bits of language that took my fancy, though they both now seem to have fallen out of common usage, were “Buckley’s” meaning no chance and short for “You’ve two chances, Buckley’s or none” and a “Furphy” which is a nonsense story or rumour.

When we moved to New York I was puzzled by what a “click” could be, in the sense of “those girls, they’re a real click” until I realised we were talking the same language but with a completely different spin on the pronunciation front, and from then on ‘my clique = your click’. ‘Schlep” was another NY word that I added to my vocabulary with glee, somehow “It’s a schlep across town” sounds more glamorous than “It’s a trek”, though in an example of how words rotate through age groups, ‘Trek’ is now a completely overused word in Drama Queen No.1’s 15 year old vocabulary with any journey involving her feet and a distance of more than 100m being labelled ‘a complete trek’ and immediate vehicular assistance demanded.

My current favourite bit of Aussie slang is “Ranga” – I think it combines all the attributes of great slang, it rolls off the tongue, is irreverent and as soon as you hear it in context, “See that girl over there, the Ranga” you immediately know what it means. Two of my brothers are Rangas, and I always hoped one of my children would be – but to no avail, they are all a load of blondes with nary a red tinge amongst them. (Hopefully I’ve given any linguistically challenged readers a big clue as to what a Ranga is.) I’m not sure where the term started but it gained extra prominence when Chris Lilley, an Australian comedian, used it in Summer Heights High – NB if you are ever looking for a very funny, very non p.c. view of high school – this is one for you.

I am having a complete, not to mention very expensive, week of medical experts, having started with the orthodontist, we have now graduated to the vet. On Sunday, the dog hurled himself off a stone wall onto the beach with such enthusiasm that he ripped a dew claw. As part of the trip to the vet to have it removed we also discovered that he has a major ear infection, step forward negligent owner of the year – as with the Drama Queens, in this situation of obvious neglect, my stock defence is a bleated “well he/she looked okay to me.” I am wondering at this point whether there is a label for parents/dog owners like me – perhaps the opposite of a hovering helicopter parent, more of a submarine disappearing into the depths, oblivious to my children spluttering in the shallows.

The dog has been placed on the canine equivalent of bed rest for the week, which means sedate walks on the lead. Bouncing off the walls as a description does not do credit to the resulting surges of energy and he has been amusing himself doing four legged handsprings around the room. Just as well Husband is in Europe – otherwise I’d say the black, furry ping pong ball had Buckley’s chance of making it into next week.

As for me, it’s Friday evening, and we’ve survived the week complete with orthodontist, vet and a school project where I was co-opted as a mobile clamp. I’m off for a bath, partly to wash off the glue and wooden splinters from the Tech Design house of the future. Mental note if DQ No. 2 becomes an architect, I must check if over reliance on blu tak as construction material of last resort has serious implications for building stability. The good news is I’m shutting down the hatches and moving back into the accustomed maternal submarine mode.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Brace yourself

Despite all my forebodings re the fancy dress fundraiser, I had a fabulous time dressed as a teenager. Mutter on about fancy dress as I do, but it has to be admitted there is something very liberating about prancing around in a ridiculous outfit. I did have a nasty moment on the way to the dinner though where we shot through some traffic lights at speed and I had a momentary vision of myself being carted off in an ambulance. Never mind the clean underwear syndrome, can you imagine the humiliation of arriving at A&E dressed for dentention? In actual fact I would have probably fitted right in with the inevitable hen night casualties on a Friday night.

On Monday I took Drama Queen No. 2 to the orthodontist for that great rite of passage, the fitting of braces. Before you have children it never occurs to you that one of the closest relationships you are going to have through their adolescence is the family orthodontist. As the mother of three girls I find I am always greeted with enthusiasm by dental practitioners, to the extent that the paediatric orthodontist in America took to sending me Mother’s Day cards, a practice that alarmed me somewhat. DQ no.2 eyes this particular orthodontist with some suspicion based on the debonair way he announced last year that he wanted her to have four teeth out over the next week. I have a vivid memory of her eyes bulging with horror during that particular pronouncement – like all good dental wonks he waited until her mouth was filled with implements before breaking the good news.

We arrived early for this instalment of the ongoing orthodontic reality show, provisionally entitled, ‘This is going to hurt you, and your parents' bank balance far more than it hurts me.’ It was actually a world first for me as I am the woman who generally gallops into dental appointments with 30 seconds to spare, however true to form I had got it wrong and we were in fact over an hour early – so we retired to the Lindt Chocolate Café for some soothing carbohydrates. With hindsight it transpires that this visit to the temple of Willy Wonka where just sniffing the chocolate aroma is enough to put a good few inches on the waistline, was a good thing as DQ No. 2 in her new incarnation of metal mouth can’t swallow or chew for a bit which makes even soup a challenging meal.

She is not unnaturally miserable at the moment and I am feeling wracked with guilt that I am putting her through it. The only comfort is that I am pretty certain that a) the discomfort will pass pretty quickly and b) when she hits her 20’s, whilst she may not have forgiven me for this particular episode, she will at least not be facing years of adult orthodontics to cover a misaligned jaw. It has however made me ponder things like foot binding and genital mutilation and given me a glimmering into the thinking where a culture is created that in order for a female to be accepted, successful, fit into society she has to undergo painful change and mothers encourage daughters into things for what the mothers perceive as the daughter’s own good.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Naughtiest Girl in the School

The most beautiful morning in Sydney, I took the foul fiend (the dog, in case of pardonable confusion as to which member of the family I am referring), down for a walk along the beach at 6am. A heavy fog was banked up across the harbour with the Manly ferry and a few brave kayakers emerging atmospherically from the mist. The early morning sun was shining down on my side of the fog bank, there was a smell of blossom in the air and the dog was behaving himself – what more could one wish for?

Just as well I am feeling positive about life – the day of the dreaded Trivia Evening School Fundraiser has arrived. Dreaded on two counts, not only do I think the conclusive answer to “Are you smarter than a 5th Grader?” is going to be proved to be a resounding “No”, but even more terrifying is the merry thought that to get us in the mood we are all dressing the part. As it is in aid of Drama Queen No. 3’s primary school there is the small, or more accurately far too large, problem about dressing up in her uniform. I would be entering into the realms of la la land if I even thought there was a chance of getting into one of her dresses and frankly I am not prepared to try. I investigated DQ no 1 and 2’s school wardrobe with hope in my heart, after all they are both taller than me – however they are built like racing snakes and have thus avoided the maternal gene pool offering of short and stocky. The good, and frankly surprising news is that I have at least found a dress that fits. The bad news is that the DQs have always complained that their school summer dresses are in essence sacks, and deeply unflattering. Whilst I have always maintained they look ‘sweet’ in them, (and is there ever an adjective a teenage girl hates more), on this one they have right on their side. Surveying myself in the mirror the effect is less St Trinians/Red blooded male fantasy and more “The Fat Owl of the Remove”, for those of you who read Billy Bunter. I am thinking I might have to spice it up with some long boots and fishnets. To ensure the authentic look I will obviously be painting my fingernails black and then gnawing bits off, covering my arms with biro designs and cryptic messages, wearing a black bra and leaving the regulation top button brazenly undone.

Having now cheered myself up by imagining the limitless possibilities for embellishing my ‘uniform’ I am trying to push to the back of my mind my mother’s dictum for fancy dress, “Always a good idea to look attractive”, and I am feeling proud of myself for entering into the spirit of the whole thing – and I can tell you spirits in the form of a large gin will be the first thing I will be looking for as I make my entrance - after all I am wearing the outfit of a delinquent teenager. Actually with that in mind make mine a vodka.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Vintage school dinners - name your favourite

In a feat of amazing organisation, I managed to escape scenes of domestic carnage by 6pm on Friday night – in the wild this is known as abandonment of young, and went to the Sydney Theatre Company to see the American company, Steppenwolf ‘s production of ‘August: Osage County’. This is the second play I have seen with this particular group of female friends over the last six months, (the first was a British play, ‘That Face’), and I have to say we seem to be somewhat hooked on a theme of matriarchs with addiction problems. Drink in the case of ‘That Face’ – which could have been accurately subtitled ‘Off her face’ whilst in ‘Osage County’ the mother fairly rattled with prescription pills. I thought ‘Osage County’ was a stunning piece of theatre – I am just in awe of the writing and acting that can hold an audience for three hours, with dialogue so sharp that it provokes horrified laughter from the most emotionally charged situations. Like good books, I think good plays resonate on and you keep thinking about them and I am sure lines from ‘Osage County’ will keep reappearing in my head for years to come. Apart from anything else the woman with the pill popping propensities had three daughters – anyone else spotting the similarities here? However I think after all this maternal anguish treading the boards, my female gaggle of playgoers may be in the market for a bit of light froth a la Noel Coward for our next outing.

Before we went to the production we had dinner at Fratelli Fresh, which is a fabulous Italian providores, and restaurant that has recently opened up down the road from Sydney Theatre Company. We galloped through a glass of wine and a salad as time was short – salads are one of the things that Australian restaurants do absolutely brilliantly. One of the main salads had a beetroot base but I must confess I always find it hard to get enthused by beetroot – I have vivid memories of primary school lunches with mounds of purple mush leaking across the plate, but Australians love the stuff, to the extent that a true Aussie beefburger definitely includes a beetroot layer.

My beetroot aversion made me think about how a whole generation of UK adults was scarred by school dinners – this is not a concept that exists in Australia where although schools might have an onsite canteen they definitely don’t go in for dining halls and full scale sit down lunches. Consequently Australian adults of my age have missed out on the delights of British school food such as liver, brussel sprouts, custard and bread and butter pudding (the last being Husband’s particular pet hate and which he describes as invariably ‘slimy’). I have vivid memories of haggis appearing at least once a week at my Scottish boarding school and if I am not mistaken any leftovers used to be resurrected in the particularly delightful form of squashed haggis slabs for breakfast. Fortunately I was quite fond of the stuff and I also have to confess a weakness for the chocolate custard that appeared over a rectangular slab of ice cream and which no doubt accounted for my braw, brawny teenage outline on the hockey field.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's 4 a.m. and time for toast

Okay, I am happy to hold my hand up. Last week’s wet and windy weather in the UK was purely my fault. As I surveyed Drama Queen No. 3’s packing, designed to cope with all eventualities of a UK summer, e.g. shorts (unworn in the event), insulated waterproof jacket (worn most days) swimsuit (are you kidding me?), I decided the wellies she had packed were a step too far and recklessly threw them out of the suitcase. Guess what the first purchase we had to make in Orkney was? Correct, there we were straight down the farmers’ general store seeking good, strong, practical wellies. To put the weather in context, when we arrived at Kirkwall airport in the very small plane – talk about sublime to ridiculous, over the 33 hours of travel we moved from the A380 down to a 20 seater, the weather was so bad that the pilot warned we might have to circle or divert. As I anxiously peered through the cloud to spot land, my first intimation that we were about to hit the tarmac, was a sheep peering in at me.

Orkney lived up to its historical and mystical reputation, helped by the driving rain that gave everything a veiled look. No matter what the weather, it is impossible to be unmoved by Skara Brae, a Neolithic village and the Ring of Brodgar, a stone circle in the most magical scenery of hill and loch, that predates Stonehenge in terms of a spine tingling reminder of the past 5000 years.

Edinburgh was in full festival swing with a crush of nationalities and every type of performance imaginable. My father had managed to get tickets for the Tattoo which despite being the biggest tourist draw known to man, was incredibly atmospheric to the extent that Drama Queen No.3 having previously muttered about the anticipated excitement level of watching marching bands, was completely transfixed and has subsequently voted it the highlight of her UK visit.

We also managed a typical expat day of 24 hours in the south of England where we scooted across London and met a ridiculous number of friends, relatives, godparents and godchildren. I do occasionally whip myself that I have deprived my offspring of all their adult mentors so I love it when we can touch base – and I think it will be sometime before DQ no.3 forgets guzzling her way through a chocolate fondue at Selfridges with her Godfather or wandering through the dinosaurs at the Science Museum with one of her Godmothers – I think the post chocolate haze gave the moving, giant dinosaur the final, realistic touch. I met up with two of my godsons in the 24 hours and got a quick fix of them as they hover on that cusp of adolescence, so I am left with tantalising glimpses of both the child they were that I knew (though being honest as it is 8 years since I last lived in the UK they were pretty much toddlers) but also the even more exhilarating flash of the adults they will be. Perhaps this is the answer with my own particular band of merry teenagers – focus on the big picture and ignore the daily discussions about location of TV remote, house phone, tweezers and nail clippers, number of pink razors in shower, mysterious disappearance of my pair of black stilettos (don’t know whether to be flattered or not that they got the teenage tick of approval) and adult (read ancient and boring here) lack of understanding about curfews, phone bills, pocket money, and parties.

All the excitement aside the highlight for me was time with my parents – perhaps it is old age, and let’s face it, I am sensitive about the approaching 45th birthday celebration, but as I get older I realise everything else comes and goes but time with the people that you love is the only thing that really matters.

I do hate the jet lag coming this way. It is 4.15am and I am wide awake, the dog is watching me in a somewhat jaundiced way that indicates that my wandering around eating toast and drinking hot milk in the hope that the carbohydrates will have a pole axing effect on my wakeful hormones, is not normal behaviour in his canine eyes.

Somewhat to my chagrin Husband had household running like a military machine when I got home, and I am reluctantly forced to concede that I may be the source of the element of chaos that normally so characterises our life. The upside is that in the 10 days that DQ no. 3 and I were away, Sydney has suddenly hit Spring. The blossom is coming out on the trees in the road and in the evening you are suddenly hit with wafts of jasmine – and best of all I haven’t had to wear the wellies once since I got home and I have taken off the scarf that was a permanent fixture round my neck during the Sydney Winter and my UK week of Summer.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Vikings on Valium

OMG I feel as if my hair is standing vertically on end purely as a result of my current state of sheer hysteria. Life is getting beyond me. Tomorrow I am flying to Orkney; my non-British readers may have to reach for an atlas at this moment. Here’s a quick clue, small islands off the top right hand corner of Scotland. The reason for this flight to my Viking inspired roots, (my paternal grandmother was an Orcadian) is that I am taking Drama Queen No.3 to spend a week with my parents and they happen to be in Orkney this weekend before returning to home base of Edinburgh. The flight from Sydney to Orkney is an interesting one involving a number of changes and taking in total 33 hours so I have a suspicion that by the time we land in Kirkwall that I may be doing my own Viking invader imitation of the wild and woolly sort.

This trip has a number of serious implications for maternal sanity; a) DQ’s 1 and 2 feel they have been discriminated against and have taken to referring to DQ no.3 as ‘The Chosen One’ b) military planning has been required to ensure the mother taxi service operates in my absence and no teenager is left sitting in the gloaming as evening falls by an abandoned netball court and c) DQ no 3 will see this as a rare chance for 33 hours of my undivided attention and unlike most plane companions will not be deterred by earphones, eye shields, hard stares, blanket over the head and my pretending to read my book. The other slight problem is that she has a saxophone exam four days after we get back so guess which small and totally portable instrument (pause for sarcastic laughter if you can hear it over the screams of pain as I bark my shins on the wretched thing) we are dragging round Scotland and if anyone would like to open a book on how many times it actually gets played, I am cornering all the low numbers as after all I do need to recoup the cost of the fares.

If this wasn’t enough, Husband is in the midst of a major dental crisis and spent most of this morning in the dentist’s chair having eye-wateringly unpleasant things done to him at an equally eye-watering cost. Our lovely female dentist – I always choose dentists on the grounds of sex and physical size as I feel it is important for my personal sanity to know I can overpower them and get away if necessary, spotted that the term reluctant patient is a complete understatement in Husband’s case. Following a couple of preliminary meetings she ended up prescribing a large amount of valium to be taken beforehand in a bid to ensure he was sufficiently relaxed to drag himself to her front door – I had concerns that he might be so away with the fairies given the copious dose that I left him with a card to hand to the taxi driver with the dentist’s name and address on it, just in case he tried to do a runner or in a moment of drug induced insanity ordered the cab to go to the airport instead. I resisted the temptation to add a Paddington Bear inspired note to the effect “Please look after this man”.

When I went to pick him up, he had that slightly swaying glazed look of the punch drunk and it brought back my valium experience. When we lived in Hong Kong I had to have wisdom teeth removed and I confessed to my male dentist that I was not good at dentists, said with the kind of little laugh that made it quite clear to him he had a wall climber here. Note I had made an exception to the small and female dentist rule as he was, I thought, the most handsome man I had met in Hong Kong. He kindly organized a large injection of valium and I have to say it was a breeze having the teeth out. I have, however no memory of the next few hours, but some of my exploits obviously included giving the dentist my full and frank opinion of his physical charms as he blushed bright red when I went back for the check up and seemed very nervous of being left alone with me. I also seemed to have rather bizarrely made a new best friend of his previously snooty receptionist who greeted me with a kiss and shrieks of “Sweetie”. As for the unfortunate couple deputed to pick me up – Husband being absent overseas at the time, they were treated to me insisting they come into the flat and sit down, I then apparently whizzed into our bedroom and reappeared modeling my maternity nightie – possibly the least flattering outfit anyone in their right mind eg not bombed out of their skull on valium, would choose. In comparison Husband has shown no tendencies to model his underwear, and both dentist and receptionist still seem to be on good, but not overly friendly terms with him.

Such is the state of the packing and general lack of organization that had he any valium left I would be strongly tempted to swallow one – in the hope the so called ‘housewife’s friend’ might transform me – on the other hand I am not sure Sydney Departures lounge is ready for the maternity nightie experience.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Name your type and other trivia questions

Happy Glorious 12th! I hate to grouse (ho, ho) but am totally fed up of wet and damp as a weather default setting. However let’s get off Sydney’s weather, about which I have nothing positive to say, and onto something definitely more interesting.

Maggie Alderson, who is a columnist with the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine, (and another transplanted Brit), wrote a piece last week about people having a definite physical type to whom they are attracted, to the extent that they can end up with a series of near identical partners. As with all good theories I immediately tested this one on both myself and my nearest and dearest.

Being a male, Husband is much more predictable and definitely has a track record with blondes – though with variations in size, for as his father charitably pointed out when he started going out with me, “You’ve had a fat girlfriend, and a thin one and now you’ve got an in between one.” I recovered pretty quickly from this ranking, young love being a thing of great resilience. However twenty years on, I feel less benign towards Drama Queen No. 3, who when I was repeating this story to her today, said with interest, “So were you the fat one then?”

When I reviewed my own list of official and potential boyfriends – and for potential, read men for whom I yearned and tried, but failed to convert to my potential as girlfriend material, the one thing that stood out was the complete lack of any physical type whatsoever. Prime specimens included, in no particular order, a mousy haired chap, topping six feet with feet so big he had to have his shoes specially made, a small red head, tall and dark with curly hair (when I described this last one to the DQs they thought he sounded like the dog!), small blonde and balding and thin and dark like an emaciated Mr Darcy. I won’t go on, apart from anything else there aren’t that many, even with the yearnings included, but you get the general drift, you would never line them up together as look alikes in an identity parade.

We are off to a school fundraiser trivia night in a couple of weeks. Trivia nights are a bit like IKEA, doesn’t matter what part of the globe you end up in, chances are there’s one near you. I shouldn’t be too rude about IKEA as based on experience there is nothing to beat it when you land in new country minus any furniture and then discover none of the stuff lovingly packed in the ‘all at sea’ container is actually going to fit the new rented house. I am considerably less fond of trivia nights, mainly because we are so shockingly bad at them. Not only has popular culture and sport apparently completely passed us by for the last two decades but we are both such competitive con artists that we can’t resist blurting out complete rubbish in such totally convincing tones that it generally takes the rest of our team at least one round to spot us as the traitors in their midst. We are a man short for this particular event and the lonesome wife has suggested putting up a wanted poster describing her perfect man and waiting to see the response.

This of course has got me thinking what I would put on my own ‘Wanted’ poster – ‘all physical types considered’ would obviously be an honest start given my liquorice allsorts track record on the types of male I find attractive. I came to the conclusion that the key driver for what I find attractive in a man is a mix of two factors; interesting conversation, I love that moment when you suddenly move beyond the commonplace with someone, secondly and probably most importantly, being able to make me laugh. There are obviously a range of minor factors such as being willing to share chocolate with me, and laughing at my jokes, but I don’t think it is any coincidence that I can always remember conversations I have had with people I find attractive but can never recall accurately what they looked like or what they were wearing – though candidates wearing socks with sandals will not be considered and bearded types will have to be pretty damm funny to get beyond first interview. Husband would also like me to point out the position has actually been filled!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wolf whistles and a wine that froths

You can tell it is over halfway through the year in that it has taken me until now to get to the post office to send off this year’s, (and I do mean this year in the sense of 2010), photo calendar to my family along with grovelling little notes along the lines of ‘better late than never’. As we spent Christmas in the UK in the bosom of my family I had lots of good intentions re a speedy turnaround on the calendar front and talked gaily of having it done by February at the latest. It is now August and I have finally organised myself to capture images of all three generations of our extended family and to ensure that every one of the eighteen members appears at least once, though not necessarily in a pose they will be happy with – (sorry about the earmuffs, Brother no. 2). One of the my many problems, apart from the fact it is going to be difficult to pass the calendars off as a late or early Christmas present, is that I had of course far too many photos to just fill the remaining four months of 2010. In a typically optimistic approach to the problem I have now produced a calendar running from July 2010 (recipients will have to just turn back a month) to June 2011 – how useful is that!

In the run up to the Australian elections I have had to apply for an early ballot paper as I am out of the country for the crucial day. Voting is compulsory in Australia and it is amazing how the prospect of a financial penalty concentrates the mind in terms of organising myself. Along with an enforced duty to cast your vote, Australia is the home of many quirky inventions including the drive through bottle shop (off licence/liquor store) concept. I particularly like the ‘browse’ and ‘express’ car lane options. Woe betide you if you are in the express lane and can’t decide whether to go for a Merlot or Pinot Noir or in my case another great Aussie innovation on the alcohol front, the Sparkling Shiraz. Prior to landing in Sydney I had always regarded red wine that frothed as belonging firmly in the home brew camp and treated it with extreme caution – experiences with home brewed ginger beer having given me a major aversion to potentially explosive drinks. However like all converts, having been introduced to the joys of the bubbly red, I now drink it with enthusiasm.

Drama Queen no 2 came home last week with the news that a number of her friends had been given detentions. Usually this is a punishment for uniform infringements such as not having a hat or taking the school skirt to new heights on the length front. This time however it had been handed out for the crime of wolf whistling at the builders working on site at school – a classic case of role reversal that made me laugh uproariously – or maybe that was just the Sparkling Shiraz.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A man and his shed is a beautiful thing

Boy, am I glad I splashed out and bought those leopard skin wellies. It has poured all week and has had me stomping through puddles in a thoroughly bad mood. The dog, who is likewise a fair weather creature, has taken to leaping out of the car for his run at the beach, only to shake himself in disbelief at the tropical downpour before he rushes round the car to sit piteously by the boot.

However Husband is now in high good humour as he is that most fortunate of men, the possessor of not one, but two garden sheds. It is difficult to overestimate the happiness of a man let loose in Bunnings (the hardware superstore chain) when he has a new shed to kit out. He now has the luxury of moving all the stuff, and stuff is the politest word I can think of, for that particular collection, into the new shed before setting about the old shed with a sledgehammer (in his dreams he is a demolition man). I suspect most of the shed contents moved here from the US five years ago and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of them can track their provenance to London in 2002.

We had guests to stay at short notice last week which entailed a panic clearance of the guest bedroom. I realised the room had become the indoor equivalent of the shed; a general dumping ground for things too difficult to think about/classify. The muck out revealed an interesting snapshot of family life including a variety of sporting equipment from mouth guards to hockey sticks and enough ski helmets to kit out a junior race team – I don’t know why I am keeping all the old ones, I question whether any of the Drama Queens’ heads are likely to shrink during their teenage years. I also had to shift out all my trashy novels that I stash there as part of my vain, in every sense of the word, attempt to keep up an intellectual front to the world. Other gems removed, and bear in mind we are not talking about a large room here, included a case of wine that Husband absentmindedly cellared there and the builders’ cache of spare tiles left over from the bathroom renovation. The good news is of course that now the guests have departed, all the debris of normal life has swiftly shifted back – the trick I find , is just to keep the door firmly closed.

I am slightly concerned by the way Husband is contemplating how many fold up chairs he can fit in the new shed – with a plasma tv on the wish list too I suspect. Apart from anything else it is such a small shed that he is going to have to be on intimate terms with any guests. I was pondering the role of a shed in a man’s life, particularly a man with three teenage daughters and remembered that there is in fact an Australian organisation called The Australian Men’s Shed Association which promotes community sheds where men can gather, work together, bond and do manly things – in my mind I am thinking of this as the male equivalent of the female book group and I think it is a great concept.

Speaking personally, kitting out sheds leaves me somewhat cold, but lead me to a stationery shop and I’m in heaven. I am a complete sucker for those weekly menu planners and ‘To do” lists, there is something about the pristine newness of them that convinces me that I will reform and my life will become a model of organisation. I have just discovered Kikki K, a stylish Swedish stationary store in Sydney (hand the woman a prize for alliteration) which I can see is going to have a key role in the organisational transformation – I am saving a visit as a treat for myself and once I buy that gleaming “To do” pad I will write upon it in big bold letters “Tackle Guest Bedroom” – and won’t I feel good.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

If you can't stand the heat ......Masterchef or Politics?

Australians are currently caught up in a battle for supremacy, newspaper inches and coffee gossip centre around the intriguing topic of who is going to win. I am of course talking about ‘Masterchef’, the Australian programme that combines reality show with cookery, as amateur chefs compete their way through a number of challenges. It is an absolute winner in our household and the two younger Drama Queens in particular are completely addicted to it. There is an upside to the concentrated televison fixation in that they are cooking up a storm and the house is awash in Masterchef inspired cakes and dishes. DQ no.3 talks knowledgably about ‘plating up’ her offerings with vegetables built into towers with the odd leaf strewn on the top. The cooking frenzy does have its unnerving moments though; I received a call from DQ no 2 asking if I had a thermometer that would show if she had boiling sugar at the correct temperature. I managed to quell the incipient hysteria that always begins when I feel a trip to the Emergency Burns Unit is coming on. Just as importantly, I also managed to stop her before she stuck the first aid thermometer into the pan. I don’t know what exploding glass and mercury does in cake decorating terms but I’m pretty sure I don’t want my confectionary laced with it.

The Masterchef final is scheduled to be televised at 7.30pm this Sunday. It is particularly unfortunate that is apparently tradition that the first televised political debate of any election campaign is held on the weekend after an election is called. Hands up here if you were aware Australia is having a general election. If your hand is up and you’re an Australian, shame on you – tbough I have to confess I missed the actual announcement and am presuming that it has taken place, based on the preponderance of photos of politicians clutching babies, toddlers, environmentalists, unionists and mining bosses to their metaphoric bosoms. In a twist worthy of a television show of its own, it transpired that the political debate between the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition (and you score extra points here on the international stage if you can name these two characters) was a direct clash with the Masterchef final. I did hear Julia Gillard (the Prime Minister) say that she had every confidence that Australians would choose to listen to a debate on the national future over other options – I am not sure many people shared her touching faith in the likelihood of the population going for the option of entertainment, suspense and drama provided by politicians rather than a full on contest featuring knives, blow torches, heat in the kitchen and suspense – or should that have been the other way round? Anyway guess who blinked first on this one – and I’ll give you a clue, it wasn’t the producers of Masterchef who were worried about possible viewer numbers. Surprise, surprise, the debate has been rescheduled at the earlier time of 6.30pm.

Clever signs and advertising always make me laugh. I have just passed a van with a “Love is Blind” sign advertising blinds – and I feel like ringing them up and ordering blinds immediately despite the fact I have just finished replacing all the blinds in the house with shutters. My other favourite hangs outside a personal training outfit in Neutral Bay and proclaims ‘Birthday Suit Alterations Here.” Given the preponderance of Masterchef inspired treats in the household, it’s just as well we are reaching the grand finale as I think we may be talking about my birthday suit being let out rather than the optimistic nip and tuck for which I am hoping.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Anyone got a bottle opener handy - and I don't mean you, Sergeant

There are definitely ‘Only in Australia’ weeks in terms of newspaper stories– and this week is certainly a prize winning one as far as Australian stereotypes go. I’ve already mentioned the earlier breaking news of the Queensland Driving test with its calm and measured approach to candidates speeding and steering with one hand during the test. We now also have the Australian male who after sufficient drink to get him thrown out of a Broome pub, and I suspect we are not just talking about slurring his words or fumbling the change here, then decided to jump into the enclosure of a 5 metre crocodile to give it a pat and sit on its back. He apparently felt it would be an experience and with typical male confidence assessed the crocodile as slow and stupid. A few good bites later he had hurdled out of the pen and presumably is now convinced that ‘Fatso” the crocodile didn’t grow to his substantial size by being slow on the uptake when presented with ‘food to go’.

I did think I had read it all in terms of bizarre stories for this week when I came across this one in the respectable Sydney Morning Herald.

It relates the story of a New South Wales police officer who is fighting his dismissal from the force. The case centres on his party trick of opening a beer bottle with a bottle opener attached to his penis piercing. This feat apparently stunned, amazed and delighted his dinner companions at the restaurant where the Christmas party was being held. I am mentally trying to imagine what would be the appropriate facial expression should anyone try this party trick on me – perhaps I should stick to screw top drinks in the future. The bit of the story that really made me snort into my coffee with suppressed laughter is that he now works part time in a bottle shop – the mind boggles.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Queensland driving test? Speed this way

As in all countries there is a fair bit of geographic rivalry between the states in Australia – think North and South in the UK or indeed the US. Queensland and New South Wales’s rivalry is typified by the annual State of Origin Rugby League series where players who were born in the respective states battle it out over three games – and I do mean battle it out. During the first, and it must be admitted only, game I have ever watched, the actual rugby played was in the nature of an interval between players being stretchered off. It was like watching ER or Gray’s Anatomy with a bit of ball play thrown in. In the interests of accuracy I should point out this game was in 1991 and the body count may have improved in the meantime, but I doubt it.

The inhabitants of New South Wales generally portray Queenslanders as one would describe a bunch of slow moving, slow talking, country cousins with a strong wild streak – I think Dukes of Hazzard is the image I’m trying to conjure up here. A classic example is Queensland’s refusal to adopt the concept of daylight saving which New South Walesians attribute to the fact they are frightened that it will fade their curtains.

However it has to be said that Queenslanders don’t always help themselves. I will be strapping my seatbelt up very tightly the next time I cross the border into Queensland as it has just been revealed that following the revision of the driving test in that state, candidates will be able to speed up to five times during the test and to steer with one hand on up to six occasions. Indicating also seems to be optional, whilst if you can’t start your car, no worries Mate, you get up to five attempts at that one. Stalling, not an issue, you’ve got at least six gos before they fail you, though I am not entirely clear what the ruling is on bunny hopping which was one of my pet habits when learning.

I have a glorious image of myself as a learner driver, speeding down the road, only pausing to take my hands off the wheel to wave to admiring friends and acquaintances in the manner of Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows. I wonder if the hands off rule means I am allowed to text? Chatting gaily to the Driving Test administrator, presumably employed as a result of his nerves of steel, I will be making rapid turns to left and right with no indication and will only come to a halt when I stall the car – and unless I have actually had the misfortune to receive a speeding ticket during the test which is apparently not allowable I will still have passed. I can’t actually figure that last bit out – according to a spokesman for the Queensland Transport and Main Roads authority if you are going fast enough to get a fine from the police that is not acceptable, but it is okay to be over the speed limit by up to 5 km/hr.

Anyway I’m off to hit the roads of Queensland – the only issue is whether to wear the Daisy Duke shorts and halter top outfit or the Mr. Toad goggles and cape.