Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bat Lover or Tree Hugger?

You can tell I’m British in that I tend to start with that great ice breaker, a comment on the weather. It has been the most beautiful day, slight chill in the morning and then just a glorious, 30oC without being sticky – after all the wet there is a sense of entitlement about a fabulous Saturday. Last week I found my trusty LL Bean spongebag/washbag had been defeated by the humidity, and had gone mouldy. I was slightly peeved by this discovery as, call me na├»ve, but I would have thought the life of a spongebag is destined to be spent in wet and steamy places – admittedly more of the bathroom variety than a wet Sydney February, but I do feel it is a bit sad that my spongebag with its ‘cope with everything that the great outdoors can throw at you’, heritage courtesy of LL Bean has succumbed to a similar fate as the Drama Queens’ school blazers (attractive spotting of mould), my winter boots (furry fringes of yes you’ve got it, mould) and my London coat (in which I now look like Cruella De Ville in reverse, black with white spots everywhere).

I spent the afternoon down on the beach with the younger two Drama Queens and a crowd of their friends. The girls hurled themselves off the jetty and swam whilst I sat and drank coffee and chatted to some of the other parents. Have to say having a chilled afternoon – if that is the right word for a hot Sydney February day, at a beach you can walk to, rates pretty highly in the Life’s nice things competition. I am still on my find five things to be grateful for each day kick, so that can definitely go top of today’s list. Also on the list would be watching a couple of moorhens picking their way through a forest of water lilies at a pond in Centennial Park where Drama Queen no. 2 was playing Touch – which is a very entertaining version of rugby league that girls play here.

Bats or more correctly Grey-headed Flying-Foxes, are a feature of the Sydney night sky, and also of Sydney Botanic Gardens where they have a huge daytime roost. They leave at night, in search of nectar and fruit, flooding out in their hundreds from the Botanics like the start of a bad horror film with their black, pet of Dracula, silhouettes, given emphasis by the backdrop of business skyscrapers. Although they attract tourists to the Gardens – and I have to say we always go and look at “The Bats” which hang in giant clusters, they are actually a menace for the gardens, completely swamping and ultimately killing trees. They have in fact become such a problem that the Botanic Gardens Trust has invested lots of time and energy trying to persuade the bat squatters to move on. I was completely intrigued by some of the methods they have apparently tried, including water sprays, an inflatable man – a variant on a scarecrow here but I did wonder why they hadn’t gone for an inflatable woman which if I remember correctly from my student days was a relatively easy thing to get your hands on. They also tried strong smelling stuff to shift them – which amazed me as the bats themselves are pretty malodorous so I would be surprised if the smell of shrimp paste or apparently python poo had moved them on. Would have loved to have seen the requisition slip to the zoo for that last one – “Please supply as a matter of urgency, a vat of python poo”. The Botanic Gardens is now being forced to resort to trying a month of “industrial noise” in a final effort to persuade the bats to find a new roost. The downside to all this is that whilst the bats are killing trees in the Gardens, they as a species are now listed as threatened as their numbers have dropped substantially, so whilst it is tempting to snigger at the claim from the chap from Bat Advocacy that the industrial noise will be akin to “sleep deprivation” for bats, I can see why resolving the issue is going to put tree-huggers and bat-lovers at odds. I am also completely torn as I love the Botanic Gardens which is an invaluable green expanse of serenity to wander in, in the heart of Sydney, filled with welcoming notices exhorting you to “Walk on the Grass”, but I also get great pleasure from the the sight of the bats spiralling out over the city at dusk and flapping silently up our street.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gonk with Gratitude

One of my friends Suzie who writes the wonderful Munch + Nibble blog commented upon an American invention, the “Gratitude Diary” where you record every night five things to be grateful for during the day. Whilst initially dismissing this as a feel good sop to the soul, I have now revisited this cynical side of me and decided it does have a certain merit as having read Suzie’s post, I have found myself thinking at odd times of the day what 5 things I would list. The idea is you have to list five different things every night and as a result you will start looking for things to be grateful for and anticipating them and slowly your life will veer to the positive – you get the gist. Bit like standing naked in front of the mirror and naming out loud the bits of your body you like – I discovered I’m quite fond of my hair and toes – hard to think how I am going to dress to accentuate those two features – and the fateful image of the gonk plastic creatures with pink hair that I used to crave as a child, is now fixed in my head.

Among the things I would list today would include, richness of Australian language. Our next door neighbours have three late teen/early 20’s children living at home – like the Italians and their “bamboccioni”, it is the norm for university students in Sydney to live with their parents, note this will not be a trend that the Drama Queens will be partaking in. Once school is over they will be heavily encouraged to discover the liberating experience of living away from home. The father of the household next door returned home yesterday to find the back garden had been turned into a mini rave and could be heard shouting in fury over the din, “Turn the ****** music down, my beer’s vibrating.” which appealed to me as an image.

This morning I met an acquaintance on the walk back from school drop off, who announced with pride that she was a new person following a month in rehab. I was immediately consumed by my nasty curious streak as to what particular type of rehab was necessary and then by a vague sense of envy as she described it as being akin to a month’s retreat. However envy of retreat like zen month apart I should list on my gratitude list that despite drama of daily life rehab has not yet been necessary.

I think I had better stop on the gratitude theme before I burst spontaneously into a chorus of "My Favorite Things" a la Julie Andrews, but if you spot a small figure, complete with great hair and toes, skipping round Sydney in a grateful optimistic frenzy, you can feel fairly confident it's me!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Nude Food

Hurray, the sun is out and the humidity has dropped. Living near the ocean in Sydney means that normally even on the hottest days we have a breeze, so dealing with high humidity and the feeling that one is encased in damp and dripping hot cotton wool is an unusual experience. We rely on ceiling fans to cool the house – and normally feel smugly ‘green’ and akin to characters in a Somerset Maugham tropical story as the blades of the fan creak slowly through the air. I do admit to some nervousness when husband turns the fan over our bed onto full as it rotates with such vigor that I have visions of the next day newspaper headlines referring to the unfortunate decapitation of couple. Over the past week however we abandoned any kind of environmental credentials and resorted to looking longingly at other people’s air conditioners whilst spending an inordinate amount of time hovering around places with efficient aircon such as bank foyers or the local fruit shop.

School dining rooms just don’t exist as a concept in Sydney. Students buy lunch at school canteens or predominantly bring in packed lunches and then sit and eat outside or under verandahs. Despite a heavy investment in cookbooks dealing with 10 top packed lunch treats and ways to make your offspring’s packed lunch the envy of the playground I have to admit to abject failure, not to mention boredom in this area. I think in the past the Drama Queens’ packed lunches have caused a different kind of sensation in the playground. On one notable occasion DQ no.1 pulled out a loaf of bread that I had mistakenly crammed into her lunch box having tenderly placed her packed lunch in the bread bin. DQ no. 3 also came home recently announcing bitterly that when she had shown her friends the contents of her lunch box “they recoiled”. I was very taken by the image of 10 year olds reeling back in horror and it strengthened my resolve that from now on I am going to follow the good example of my much more organized friend, (most of my friends fall into this category) and get the DQs to make their own packed lunch. So far, so good, we are into week 2 of Project Hunter Gatherer and they all seem to be sorting out reasonably nutritious and sensible lunches and best of all I am off the hook on the recoiling front.

Australian schools are fantastic on the healthy eating front with the state school canteens in NSW given very strict guidelines on what they can serve. DQ no.3’s school has just introduced a scheme called ‘Crunch and Sip’ where each child has to bring in “Nude Food”, defined as raw vegetables or fruit, no packets, dips or any add ons – just the nude variety! So far it seems to have been very successful and the students really enjoy stopping for a five minute break mid morning where they eat their fruit or veg, have some water etc. I’ve also found it has had a knock on effect for the rest of the family in that I am buying more interesting fruit/veg and everyone is taking in their own snack pack.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Worried about leeches - pass the chocolate

Hot, wet and humid in Sydney – I characterize this weather as the kind of day where everyone you speak to, no matter how polished and groomed, has a face, that unless they have been holed up in an air conditioned sanctuary, gleams with an attractive slick of perspiration.

The rain has cascaded down in torrential downpours and the whole garden has become so wet that I found a leech making its way down the driveway. Whilst leeches are a bit of feature of wet parts of the Australian bush they are not normally a hazard in your regular Mosman garden. To my alarm when I went back to check on the leech it had disappeared which of course has made me completely paranoid about where it may be now – there is nothing like lying in bed wondering whether you can really feel something slithering towards you - husband aside.

Leeches are the most extraordinary creatures when they scent or feel vibrations of possible prey they extend their head like a type of telescopic search engine and put on an unprecedented turn of speed. The Drama Queens are in fact still completely traumatized by a camping trip that involved us all walking into a campsite in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney and camping overnight. It was a very wet trail and we were comparatively new to the country and the possibility of leeches had not occurred to the intrepid child trio – note, if the possibility had in fact entered their minds we would have been unlikely to have managed to prise them out of the car. Suffice to say I have never ever heard the like of the hideous, bloodcurdling screams that DQ no 3 emitted when she looked down at her legs and realized she had a number of black slug like creatures attached to her, swelling vigorously and visibly as they sucked on her blood. We discovered pretty swiftly that to stand still, for example to remove a leech was to invite a tide of the creatures to set off towards any bare flesh, as a result by the second day the DQs yomped back up the mountain at high speed, refusing to stop for anything for fear of a bloodthirsty sucker attaching itself. We got rid of the leeches by using salt but I have subsequently been told removing leeches with salt or cigarettes (hard to find a smoker these days) merely ensures the leech regurgitates the contents of its stomach into the bite and what one should do is insert a finger nail under its sucker and break the suction –YUCK. Come back Edward Cullen and Twilight – I’ll take a vampire over a leech any day.

One of my friend’s daughters is doing her HSC (New South Wales version of A levels this year (can you believe that Australian States all have different school leaving exams, although a National Curriculum is promised). As part of her economics course the daughter asked if I would partake in a small survey regarding my chocolate habits. I sailed through the early questions which dealt with age and sex, pondered a bit the ones dealing with how often I ate chocolate and then completely fell down on the question dealing with how much I would pay for a normal block of chocolate – where I had to admit I had absolutely no idea how much a normal bar of chocolate costs – I regard it in the same essentials category as milk and bread. In an effort to be helpful I did manage to relate the question to Freddos which are my usual secret chocolate indulgence when life is getting too much and say that if I had to pay twice the normal price I would be aggrieved but I that sadly I would still buy it – in that by the time I get to the checkout, Freddo clutched in my sticky paw, desperation has set in and price is irrelevant. The next set of questions dealt with the hideous situation where chocolate was unavailable and asked what would I buy instead. I had to face up to the complete inconsistencies of my purchasing patterns and admit that I would buy a bottle of Diet Coke instead – says something about my internal treat mentality!