Friday, January 29, 2010

Which side of the unmade bed line do you fall?

I came across fabulous article by Shane Watson in The Times this week, where inspired by the Sharon Stone comments about Meryl Streep looking like “an unmade bed”, she divides the female population into Unmade Beds and Pristine Pillows – I am of course firmly in the Unmade Bed camp, which I would typify as the relaxed, untidy but fun end of the spectrum rather than the immaculate, restrained (aka no fun) end that is Pristine Pillow territory. I was feeling rather smug about my failings being portrayed as winning virtues shared in part with Meryl, until I made the mistake of showing the article to husband, who looked mournful and muttered that he would have been quite happy with a Pristine Pillow option. I restrained myself from pointing out if he wasn’t careful he’d find himself in the newly invented ‘dumped duvet’ category.

One of the key characteristics of the Unmade Bed women is the amount they carry around in their handbags and I have to plead truly guilty on this count. Airport security men poke about the debris and household goods stashed in my currently lime green number with amazement and vague revulsion while I wait for questions about why I am carrying 20 biros, a half eaten Freddo frog, hairbrush, nit comb, 2 mismatched children’s socks, a tattered copy of Rumpole, the missing bit of a jigsaw, a 2006 diary, a tube of superglue and some toothpaste. I did however once gain an Italian boyfriend purely on the basis that I managed to pull a black suspender belt out of my handbag on a bus whilst looking for my bus ticket, leading him to conclude that I must be a great deal more exciting than he had initially thought.

In an effort to inspire Drama Queen No.1 I pushed her way the Saturday Magazine supplement from the Sydney Morning Herald that had, I thought, an interesting article on Australian women serving in the front line in Afghanistan. Unfortunately I had failed to realize that there was also an article on the profession of nightclub hostess – currently in the limelight owing to Tiger Woods’ research in this area. Call me gormless but of course the inevitable happened – over dinner with her grandparents DQ no. 1 announced that she intended to become Nightclub Hostess on the grounds she feels she is ideally suited to the profession (kindly note how restrained I am being in resisting the temptation to add the word ‘world’s oldest’ in front here). Given the key qualities highlighted as necessary for success which were loads of contacts and an ability to make friends and network, I can see why she thinks this might be an career well worth her while exploring – I might however try and persuade her not to share this insight with the careers mistress at school.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happy Australia Day

We are just coming to the end of Australia Day, the Australian national celebration of being Australian! Although the date of the holiday, January 26th commemorates the day in 1788 that the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour, like the US Labour Day weekend it also signals the end of holiday and start of school, as a result I feel as if I am having a delayed New Year event. Having had a fairly glorious summer holiday, including a trip back to the UK to wallow in the bosom of our respective families and snow, before scampering back to Sydney and the sunshine, I now feel real life starts again tomorrow thus giving me complete liberty to eat and drink anything I can find tonight on the grounds healthy living begins 27th Jan in this household. Husband having initially mocked idea that scales were reading wrong with a variety of unkind remarks, was shocked and horrified by the result when he stood on them and rushed out to buy a high tech number – first set of scales I have ever stood on where assuming a dying swan ballet pose on one leg fails to make the needle sink.

We spent Australia Day out on Sydney Harbour pottering round in small boat, anchoring off a stretch of national park coastline that looks much as it must have done when the British arrived. It was a beautiful day and the harbour buzzed with boats of every size from mega motorboats complete with staff handing round nibbles, to small tinnies and dinghies. The water in the bay where we had lunch was so clear and sandy that we saw fairy penguins flitting round the rocks and weed – seems bizarre I know to have penguins in the sunshine but then Australia does specialize in bizarre animals – goodness knows what average British convict thought when he first saw a kangaroo.

Australia Day fell on a Tuesday this year, both husband and I worked Monday which made us a bit of a rarity, as according to Sydney radio at least 500.000 Australians were expected to ‘throw a sickie’ on Monday, making it a four day weekend. Actually the ‘sickie’ is much less of a tradition than it used to be – when I first started working in Sydney in 1991 when you used to ask people how much holiday they had left for the year, they used to reply “Oh 4 days, and 10 days sick leave”

We had a wonderful week down the coast last week – I am sure some of misery of going back to work on Monday was due to the fact that when I opened up my phone to put it onto mute to save me from the excruciating embarrassment of it ringing in middle of headmaster’s speech a pile of sand fell out and I was immediately transported back to Jervis Bay and white sandy beaches and bays, sparsely populated by humans but with dolphins, kangaroos and echidnas, (Australian version of a hedgehog). I should point out the omens for our week away with the in laws didn’t look good – as we arrived at holiday destination we discovered house we thought we had rented was in a completely different street – ho hum slightly embarrassing as we had brought in laws down with much trumpeting of fabulous house that great friends of ours stayed in only to discover that fuelled by late night alcoholic search of internet we had actually booked a completely different house and even more embarrassingly completely failed to realize error until sitting outside the friends’ ex rental looking dolefully both at the street map and at the family that was clearly in possession of desirable beach house we had thought ours. Fortunately the house we had actually rented was fine – thank God I had actually written down the address for my in laws, otherwise we might have been touring the area for some time.

Returned home – minus in laws who opted to stay on in search of south coast sun and sea, which is probably just as well each of the Drama Queens had a dramatic moment of emergency with insect life on our return – one with a cockroach, one with large cricket and one involving nit comb – dealt with them all but did crawl into bed on Sunday night feeling life didn’t hold much more excitement.

Happy Australia Day!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What snow? It's summer in Sydney

Much excitement in that I have a new nephew born in the middle of the UK night. One of the upsides of being the other side of the world is that you get this kind of news first – downside there are limited number of people in the UK who would welcome a call from me in the dark and extremely chilly small hours to discuss the good news. However the Australian accountant, with whom I was trying to make sense of my tax return when a text message and photo arrived, showed a touching enthusiasm for the new arrival – however this may reflect a certain amount of relief on his part that I had stopped rustling through piles of files trying to track down the required paperwork.

It seems somewhat heartless to be sitting typing away in glorious sunshine whilst everyone in the UK is shivering morosely – there is obviously a strain of puritan guilt ethic that makes me feel vaguely uneasy about being warm. I have been typing up my maternal grandmother’s notebook of jottings about her life and have come across a reference to an uncle building the children a snow house while on leave during the First World War – big enough for all four of them to sit inside and to eat their meals – so heavy snow was obviously a feature of life in Scotland then as well as now. Sadly the 18 year old Uncle George died on his return to France, and as Granny writes “and we children really mourned him.” The other portion of her wartime memories that I found very moving was her comment on the unveiling of the school memorial tablet when she would have been about 8. “When our school memorial tablet was unveiled, our very severe, and we thought, cruel and heartless headmaster wept openly before the school. His eldest son, newly qualified as a doctor, had been killed in action and was commemorated with others on our plaque. It terrified us to see him so moved.”

On a more cheerful note, January is the Australian August, school holidays, sunshine and every family worth its salt on holiday. As a result driving in Sydney is a joy and the papers move into ‘summer’ season. One of the lead stories last week in the Sydney Morning Herald was the result of an American survey that showed men who did more housework could expect more sex. The topic aroused much excitement and interest but I particularly liked the correspondent (male needless to say) who wrote in saying;

“It’s a trick, Mate. Don’t fall for it.”

I personally feel the findings probably have something to do with the fact that one is likely to feel more kindly about one’s partner (and indeed teenage children or any other house partners) if you are not seething with rage over the fact that no one else seems to know where brush, mop, bin liners or wet towels live – hint on last one, not end of bed.

Another great story in the SMH today – featuring an 11% rise in gun theft, fuelled in part by owners keeping guns in unsafe locations eg under the pillow or in unlocked cars, though the one that made me laugh was the man who had hidden his rifle down an unused mine shaft in a box marked “F*** off – Steve’s gun” written on it – and it still got pinched.

Holiday season also unfortunately means carnage on the major roads. The Australians have a slightly unnerving habit of announcing road fatalities in the manner of a score card eg. New South Wales 22 fatalities, Victoria 14, South Australia down 6 on last month.

I have just been for my annual skin check up – for obvious reasons melanoma is a major issue in Australia and people are very conscious of the need to keep an eye on lumps, bumps and freckles. I was amused by my British hairdresser who has just had friends from the UK over for Christmas and who on their first day organized a spray on tan for the whole party – she apparently made them all line up in the back garden and sold it to them on the grounds that she didn’t want any pale visitors looking fat in her Christmas photos. On a more serious note, she thought if they looked reasonably brown it would stop them scorching themselves in the sun in an effort to get a tan. As the weather in Sydney was absolutely awful over Christmas perhaps it was just as well she invested in the spray on job.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Culture vulture or sword swallower?

Like a particularly woolly sheep I am joining the flock and heading at top speed towards that truly original topic, New Year Resolutions. I particularly liked the Sydney Morning Herald cartoon that suggested that it is worth making ones that will be a pleasure to keep – eg drink more, party endlessly.

Here are some of mine:
I am resolved to become more cultured and as a start try to go to our very good independent cinema (complete with Wurlitzer organ) more often. These film outings will almost certainly not be in tandem with husband who has a preference for the violent and bloodthirsty mixed in with sci fi and if there is a car chase, sex and a gun fight thrown in, then that’s all to the good. As I spend most of these type of films peering at the floor through my fingers trying to judge from the tempo of the music whether I can look or not without catching some type of alien decapitation they hardly rank as worthwhile trips. Anyway I am feeling very smug as I am off to 'Bright Star'3, the John Keats film tonight – though in true style, day one of my new cultured life started off with trip to GP to deal with a child’s verrucas – does it get any more glamorous?

Buy a new set of bathroom scales – I know it is a common claim that one’s scales are misreading but I think I have justifiable grounds for concern in that instead of returning to zero as I stop balancing on one leg and leap lithely off, the pointer whizzes round and gets stuck at 14 stone. I feel I must clarify here that I am nowhere near 14 stone and also that I am not opening this blog up to some kind of answers on a postcard event with estimates of my true weight.

Become more adventurous on the cooking front – although there are a number of variations on my standard dishes e.g. charred or burnt to a cinder, I have come to the depressing conclusion that spaghetti bolognaise, shepherds pie and pasta interspersed with beans on toast when things get desperate hardly offer a sparkling repertoire. Sydney is blessed with fabulous fish and a wonderful fish market capable of inspiring the most piscine challenged of cooks so I have just got to seize the moment and get familiar with a flounder or two.

One of the things that makes the most enormous difference to my life is having the ability to stream BBC Radio 4 over the Internet. I have just been listening to a Woman’s Hour broadcast dealing with some of the inspirational women they have interviewed over the last year. I particularly liked the UK politician Shirley Jenkins recounting how her father had proudly introduced her as a young girl to Nancy Astor, the first female MP in the UK with the words “My daughter wants to be an MP” only for Lady Astor to glance at her before saying dismissively “Not with that hair, she won’t”.

Also very taken with Marguerite Patten, a 91 year old cookery writer who briskly remarked mid interview “Now to answer the question you haven’t asked me yet”. I thought I might store this up as a useful bit of dialogue when I wish to be particularly cutting.

I could hardly listen to the last bit of the programme where Jenni Murray was interviewing a female sword swallower – something completely hideous about listening on radio to someone potentially disemboweling themselves. There were very impressive initial noises where the sword zipped through a cucumber with an impressive hissing sound to demonstrate its sharpness. Have to say just listening to the horrified silence as the python like ‘Miss Behave’ disposed of the sword made my bottom hurt. As Jenni Murray said with quivering hysteria in her voice “don’t try this at home” – have therefore crossed learning to sword swallow off the list of resolutions.