Sunday, May 30, 2010

I'm singing in the rain

Result! Admittedly it is still cascading water in Sydney, wet and windy with a severe weather warning is the kindest way to describe things. Feeling aggrieved that guarantee of dry weather, (purchase of wellies) had failed to work, I set off for dawn walk of reluctant fair weather dog clad in the outfit of one auditioning for a walk on role in a Fisherman's Friend advert, in my large yellow sou wester and the new leopard skin wellies. Beach not looking attractive in early dawn light and driving rain, though the elderly chap who swims there every morning was towelling himself off as I arrived. But despite the general greyness of the day I am skipping around as by 7am, Nina in the bakery had said "what fabulous boots" and Drama Queen No.2, the acknowledged style guru in the house, had also said she loved my wellies. So despite my yearnings for a pair of jewel coloured, fabulously comfortable and smart Hunter wellies I have to admit the cheap and cheerful ones are hitting a spot. Am I a wet, domestic style icon or not - and that's a rhetorical question.

Wading through the spam in my wellies

Sun shining half heartedly in Sydney, but hey that’s a huge improvement on the torrential rain that has characterized the past couple of weeks. Things have got so soggy that bored of having tide lines round all my boots and shoes I have just invested in my first pair of Australian wellies. As I am hoping to only have to use them once every five years I couldn’t justify buying a pair of the highly expensive, imported Hunter wellies that are gracing the windows of our local shoe shop, which is always quick to jump on a pricy multi-coloured trend.

Despite rejecting it as a ridiculous expat type luxury – on the lines of 'I just have to have my British boots', I did succumb to temptation and I have just been onto the Hunter website to check out the potential colours. It is immediately apparent that Wellington boots have moved on from my childhood, when being a horse obsessed teenager I lived in a pair of hand me down green Hunter wellies which I think was the only colour you could get then – in the Hunter dark green ages as it were. At that point in time having a pair of green Hunter as opposed to the normal black common or garden wellies struck me as pretty damm swish – (you can spot from this what kind of fashion conscious teenager I was). Boy, has the world changed, Hunter wellies now have the most fabulous range of colours and in collaboration with Jimmy Choo produce a top of range pair of signature crocodile print boots complete with leopard print lining. Overcoming my longing to dazzle Mosman with my Jimmy Choo wellies – I mean how one woman-up-ship can you get, I restrained myself and sloped off to Big W – the Australian equivalent of WalMart, where I bought a nifty pair of leopard skin print wellies for A$24 that satisfied both my exhibitionist side as well as my need to keep my feet dry. Having bought them, you can now guarantee it won’t deluge again for months – which seems a cheap form of weather insurance.

I have just cleared my email spam box – if pressed for time I multi delete but this always makes me feel a bit nervous as I do occasionally get mail misfiled there and I would hate to miss my invite to party of the year or the genuine ‘you have won glamorous and exciting trip’ email. I can’t decide how much of the stuff in there is targeting me, in which case it is a bit worrying, and how much it reflects a wider theme.

Based on a quick survey of the 60 or so messages currently residing in the box, if it is targeting me, then I am person that fits the following profile in the sense that I
a) have an interest in writing, and more particularly in enrolling in courses and self publishing (possibly)
b) have a variety of medical complaints from the commonplace to the truly bizarre,
c) took a variety of pharmaceutical drugs during pregnancy and now wish to find a good class action and sue,
d) am in dire need of a housekeeper (definitely a tick, particularly with the alluring subject line of ‘come home to a clean house’),
e) would be keen to investigate teen boarding schools and summer camps (haven’t opened these ones but just from the way the subject line is worded, “Boot Camp could help your troubled Teen” suspect we are talking the equivalent of religious youth detention centres here – hmm could be of interest.),
f) would like to earn a legal/medical/pharmaceutical degree without leaving the confines of my own home,
g) feel my day is not complete without a daily funny joke
h) have a number of religious and loving friends from Nigeria who just happen to have misplaced their funds.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Vanity and the purple trousers - zip to it

I’m basically a realist and acknowledge I fit the buxom peasant type rather than greyhound thin. In build terms we are talking about the difference between apples and pears rather than beanpoles. I completely accept that it is unlikely that I am going to metamorphose at this stage in my life into a six-foot svelte type (and if by any chance I do, I will of course be patenting the process and retiring in style on the proceeds).

I don’t however think it is a completely unrealistic goal to say I would like to fit back into a pair of trousers I wore during the halcyon days when I only had two children and had to pause to try and remember if I was over thirty or not. These particular trousers are a pair of purple velvet jeans lovingly preserved in the section of my wardrobe known optimistically as ‘clothes to which I will return (or more accurately fit into again) at some point in the future’. Keeping the trousers company at that end of the wardrobe are such treasures as an interview suit from my days as a banker, a pink wedding outfit last worn in 2000 and the black velvet Oxfam glamorous number that has the amazing ability to stretch round all sorts of shapes as numerous girlfriends will testify.

Just to place things in context, the purple velvet jeans were tight in the first place – I know they are sounding completely hideous in the light of 2010 but I was very fond of them and as a morale boosting move I decided to have a quick try on this morning to assess the effort that was going to be required to have me sashaying across the room in them again – though I suspect the Drama Queens would be united in a rare moment of agreement in banning any public outings were they ever to see me in them.

All was going well, I did up the top button with a bit of a sucking in of cheekbones – and everything else needless to say and attacked the zip while simultaneously jumping up and down – don’t know why I have always found this last manoeuvre helpful but I find it does work. And it did this time but with agonizing results in that I managed to trap some of my flesh in the zipper. I have come across this phenomenon before in Tom Sharpe type novels but it is normally males who have the problem with trapped and zippered flesh.

I would have screamed blue murder, but had the added complication that the house was filled with burly builders who true to form having been absent for most of the week, had decided to pick that moment to hold a mini conference in the bathroom in the making. The thought of being discovered hopping round my bedroom, trapped in a pair of purple velvet jeans that weren’t even that fashionable in the 90’s was too much for my pride and I merely uttered a series of desperate whimpers as I summoned up the courage to rip the zipper down. It did occur to me what on earth was I going to do if I couldn’t move the zip – but the thought of trying to casually sidle out the door shielded by some kind of kaftan garment on my way to casualty was too much for me and I gave a desperate and eye wateringly painful tug.

In the cold light of day, and it is cold in Sydney at the moment, I’m assessing the damage; an interesting looking scar and a resolve that at least half a stone is going to have to be lost before I am even risking tugging the purple number over my thighs again.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

It’s been intermittently grey and wet this afternoon in Sydney and the dog and I are peering morosely at the washing which is gloomily flapping around on the Hills Hoist. For my non- Australian readers a Hills Hoist is the great Australian invention, the rotating clothes line which is a feature of most Australian back gardens. In our household the Hills Hoist actually doubles as a dog roundabout as one of the animal’s more irritating habits is towel surfing, a pursuit in which he takes a flying leap and swings round, jaws clamped onto the fabric in an ecstasy of canine pleasure. This is the simple explanation for why so many towels and bedding in our household are attractively toothmarked and ripped.

Attitudes and protocol re hanging out your washing seem to differ by country. When we lived in New York State I never spotted people hanging washing outside, it appeared to be a cultural taboo in our bit of Westchester. Given I grew up in Glasgow, where the comparatively rare sunny day had us rushing to hang out the washing, I couldn’t let all that American sunshine go to waste and I rigged up a clandestine line, but I was very careful how I used it as I felt it could be social death to be caught airing the family undies. Dog surfing apart, I have to confess to a sense of pleasure when I see the washing drying on the line, I feel I am doing my bit for the environment and I just love the feel and smell of clothes that have been blowing briskly in the sunshine for a couple of hours.

Have just looked at the Hills Hoist website – to check on the positioning of the apostrophe and discovered one of the founders of the company is a Ling, which is my married surname. Ling is a comparatively rare Caucasian surname, though much more common throughout Asia, so you can imagine the confusion caused when we lived in Hong Kong. The very blond Drama Queen No. 1 still gets odd looks from immigration authorities around the world when she rocks up with Ling, born in Hong Kong, on all her travel documents. I am however delighted to be linked, no matter how tenuously, to a man who had a hand in creating an Australian icon and will smile even more fondly upon the Hills Hoist.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Is this your car, Madam?

So cross I can hardly speak – came back to my car in the municipal carpark – late I admit, to discover Australian traffic warden equivalent smugly standing writing a ticket. I tried trilling “I’m here” in an ingratiating tone in an effort to stop him slapping infringement notice on windscreen. He was not a man to be moved, and from his expression he has dealt with a number of Mosman Mothers far more glamorous than I, attempting to woo him with winning smiles and dulcet tones.

“Too late” he said with relish.

I am proud of myself in that I paused before climbing calmly into the car and asked him pleasantly and with commendable restraint whether I could now move the car, and had he got all the details he needed. I was amazed by my self control as inside I was seething with rage and longing to hurl myself upon him like an avenging vampire. The vampire simile brought on less because of my blood sucking tendencies, and indeed my main wish was to spill his blood rather than sup it, but because I was wearing a large grey wrap which I like to think makes me look svelte and sophisticated but which actually I fear creates more of an impression of an elderly flying fox let out from the nursing home.

Spitting with rage doesn’t begin to describe my emotions, and now I have calmed down I find my fury quite interesting as:
a) I was completely in the wrong – the expression “It’s a fair cop, Guv” comes to mind, (particularly from one as addicted to ‘The Bill” as I am).

b) This is only the third parking ticket I have had in the last five years and I can assure you there have been numerous occasions where I deserved to get a ticket and escaped, so in the cat and mouse game of parker v traffic warden, I am definitely a winner and grinner.

c) I am normally a calm and rational person (note this is a self assessment, the Drama Queens and Simon may have a different take on the issue), but I was ridiculously cross about the whole thing and in fact the traffic warden was very unwise to appear in my rear view mirror as I pulled out.

d) I freely acknowledge that traffic wardens do a necessary and wonderful job and are underappreciated by society.

The whole experience has made me think that being a traffic warden must be one of the least rewarding jobs in the world, and no matter what, I must not become one. If by malign misfortune it is the only career left to me, I am such a coward I must ensure that I only place tickets on cars where there is absolutely no chance of the owner returning and catching me at it, as the risk of verbal and physical abuse and nasty looks from complete strangers is far too high.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Builders in the bath

I don’t know why I always approach building projects with a skip in my step, convinced that this is going to be the fabled, quick and easy job. I should know better. After all, I am not a complete novice on the builder front. As a family we’ve already lived through one major project when we added an extra storey to our house in London. During this prolonged process I became so callous that when the foreman rushed out to meet me with the news that someone had fallen through my bedroom ceiling, my immediate thought was not for the clod footed apprentice, but my bed.

A couple of years ago we tackled the front garden of our Sydney house. As with all good building projects the renovation of the front garden and putting in a carport sounded deceptively cheap and simple to do. But this was because we had forgotten the golden rule of building projects, think of an outrageously high number of dollars and weeks and then double it. (Or to be on the safe side use a multiple of 4).

As usual our timing was perfect, no sooner did the front steps disappear, to be replaced by a plank, than a family of five arrived from New York to stay. Just to add to the general chaos the weather turned unfriendly and the front garden transformed itself into a Somme like landscape of mud and craters complete with resident digger. At this point we began to wonder what had been wrong with the dilapidated corrugated iron shack and the layer of bricks that had been the key features of the previous front garden.

Our foreman, resolute in his boots, quickly became part of daily life. His arrival before seven each morning heralded the start of the day. He was terrifically diplomatic and ignored the morning dawn chorus of shrieks and shouts as the Drama Queens got going. He even managed to keep his cool when Drama Queen No.2, late as usual, belted down the drawbridge plank, turned left and ran straight through a bed of wet concrete. She was going at such speed that she attained a kind of body surfing momentum through the grey, porridge like, substance to the open mouthed amazement of the concrete guys.

As the job continued on a timeline way beyond our initial imaginings, the foreman was such a feature of my life that my sensitive, new age man of a husband started referring to him with heavy humour as “mummy’s lover”, the implication being this was the only reason that it could take over four months to build a carport. It was unfortunate that when the perfectly innocent foreman rang me, Drama Queen no. 3 picked up and tactfully handed over the mobile with the immortal and audible words “It’s your lover, Mummy.” As a result the poor man, who was at least ten years younger than me, could never look me in the eye again and tended to back away nervously whenever I cornered him for a discussion.

Like children, just when I thought I couldn’t stand it any longer it all came to an end, and as with children it was all worth it, if expensive. We now love spending time in the front garden and enough time has passed for both my nerves and the family bank balance to recover, to the extent that we can contemplate the next project, a bathroom renovation. So far it is all looking par for the course – they ripped everything out with vigour and enthusiasm at the beginning of the week – and then following the familiar pattern of building projects everything has now gone quiet leaving us with an interesting black hole of a room.

I am keeping my fingers crossed for the mythical quick finish on this one, as I am not sure we are a family designed to share one bathroom in perpetuity. I have just stepped inside the remaining sole ablutions block in the house and in the shower alone, counted 4 different types of shampoo and conditioner, 3 separate razors (fact they are all coloured pink and husband has actually been in WA for last 2 nights makes me suspect none belong to him) and a ridiculous number of potions and lotions. I think I might be celebrating the completion of new bathroom, (note positive attitude) by introducing a rationing system re the number of beauty and health implements/aids/disguises each member of the family is allowed.

Just to finish on the builder theme, and boy how I love a good theme, Drama Queen No. 3’s school is in the midst of a giant building project, as indeed are most schools in Sydney, as a result of the government stimulus package. The playground is divided into play and construction zones with the usual notices stuck up about health and safety and the wearing of hard hats – but the ones that made me laugh are the very prominent “NO SWEARING” notices posted everywhere, presumably to lessen the chance of the Kindergarteners picking up more than the rudiments of ABC at school

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ode to Autumn - but not as Keats knew it

Coming from the northern hemisphere autumn in Sydney can be somewhat disconcerting, it seems positively bizarre to have darkened mornings and evenings and a nip in the air as you are heading towards June. July and August are inexorably associated in my mind with beaches, the giddy freedom of school holidays and being a Scot, midges and landscapes misty with gentle unrelenting drizzle, rather than bed socks, layering on clothing and the run up to the ski season.

The Australian native gums lose their leaves all year round, which adds to my sense of disbelief. Before Sydney we lived in a town outside New York for four years and Fall there was an annual delight during which the sight of a row of trees in full multi coloured splendour would bring me to a halt, (to the fury and annoyance of following drivers).

Despite occurring at an odd time of year, autumn in Sydney is beautiful, with crisp clear starts to the day and a feeling of blessing as the sun breaks through to create wonderful sunny days with temperatures in the mid 20’s. The temperature drops overnight and I am currently staving off putting on the heating with the nightly issue of hot water bottles. The introduced trees and shrubs make an attempt to provide an autumnal, in the northern sense, contrast to the pale eucalyptuses and glossy green figs. Our road is lined by an immigrant species, the good old London plane tree, with the result the front garden is filled with leaves and I find myself longing for the teams of South American gardeners, armed with leaf blowers, who used to fight an endless battle against the whirling torrents of flame coloured leaves in Rye.

I am hoping the balmy sunny days keep up for the rest of the week as Drama Queen No. 2 is off on a week’s school camp. For a girl whose basic philosophy is the nurture of body and soul, rather than nature in all its damp and uncomfortable manifestations, she amazed us by volunteering for the ‘extreme’ group and as a result will return on Friday fresh, though that might be the wrong adjective to use, from a week’s hard core camping – no showers, and trowels provided.

I am currently trying to sort out car insurance and have had to get a copy of our past track record from our old insurer – I was aware there would be a number of entries over the last five years, the fact the chap at the Body Shop and I are on first name terms was a big giveaway, but I was somewhat taken aback by the entries relating to me. I take full responsibility for the “Hit stationary object” – a pole in the supermarket car park, my only defense on that one was that given the number of paint scrapes on it I was not the only person to misjudge the slalom turn and I was refereeing World War III in the back seat at the time. However I am completely disconcerted by the entry that reads “Hit and Run” that I feel makes me sound like an ageing member of the Bonnie and Clyde duo. I assume it refers to the person who crashed into my parked car and exited stage right at speed having forgotten to leave any contact details. I think a more correct way of referring to it would be “Innocent victim” and I look forward to pleading my case with the new insurer.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day and the duck billed platypus

While I am of course riveted by the election results as they trickle out of the UK overnight, I am also of a basically frivolous and self centred turn of mind and I have to say I am equally interested in Mother’s Day which occurs on Sunday this year in Australia. As with the UK general election there are a number of parties involved and theoretically they should all be fighting to make outrageous promises of good behaviour and producing gifts and bribes in the manner of all the best politicians to win my favour. Things are not looking good though as in joyful anticipation of the day I have already had to borrow five dollars off a friend to fund the purchase of a ‘surprise’ Mother’s Day present from the school stall. I am also not taking it as a good sign that at least three of the parties involved have already asked me what we are doing for Mother’s Day and have then been puzzled by my Kennedy-like response of ‘Ask not what your mother can do for you, ask what you can do for your mother”.

I should come clean at this point and admit I’ve just had a fabulous lunch with a friend at Marque restaurant in Sydney – top tip their Friday set lunch menu is great value and just the kind of indulgent treat a couple of mothers need – so in fact I feel I’ve had a pretty good go at Mother’s Day already – which is guaranteed to make it a happy weekend for the whole family – it’s amazing how maternal recriminations vanish over a glass of champagne and a procession of amazing dishes.

Drama Queen No.1 is currently studying Oedipus Rex, leading to all kinds of unsuitable conversations round the family table. However the biggest blessing (not a word one associates with that particular bit of literature) is that it re introduced me to Tom Lehrer and in particular his fabulous song Oedipus Rex that deals with mother obsession at its peak. I dread to think what Mother’s Day was like in that particular household for as Tom Lehrer sings, “Yes he loved his mother like no other. His daughter was his sister and his son was his brother.”

I had forgotten how much I love Tom Lehrer songs. I’ve been sending all my Catholic friends the very non PC Vatican Rag and am trying unsuccessfully to persuade the Drama Queens to memorise his sung version of the Periodic Table. As one of the commentators on the Oedipus clip pointed out you have to love the man who produced the immortal line “I’d rather marry a duck billed platypus ……than end up like old Oedipus Rex.”

So Happy Mother’s Day everyone – and should you be reflecting on the shortcomings of husbands and gift giving, just remember you could have married a duck-billed platypus.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Plain Clothes Cigarettes, Australian style

Australia is still amazingly UK focused in many ways. When I wake up in the mornings I listen to ABC radio, the vaguely equivalent to BBC Radio 4, and besides getting Australian and global news I also get the UK football results, something that I find completely bizarre. In complete contrast when I worked as a cook in Deepest Darkest Maine during my first summer as a student, we used to listen to the radio in the kitchen, where the line that always used to make me laugh out loud was “Here is the world news. Today in Portland, Maine………”

The run up to the UK elections is generating so much discussion here in the media that it is hard to summon up much more enthusiasm for things political. However I have to applaud the latest Australian move on cigarettes. With a fair degree of drama, the Australian Labour government announced this week an immediate 25% rise in tax on cigarettes and in what I regard as a stroke of fair genius heralded the fact that from January 2012, all cigarettes, and tobacco products in Australia will have to be sold in plain white packets. The only embellishment will be a grisly photo of some of the unpleasant effects of smoking along the lines of gangrenous toes, blackened lungs etc. The name of the maker will appear in small, generic type. It’s hard to imagine anything remotely glamorous about being offered a cigarette from a small white box with hideous photos on it. I am aware I probably sound revoltingly prim/smug about this. I am incredibly fortunate that I never smoked as a teenager, apart from the odd Clinton type ‘inhale’. I thank my lucky stars, or should that be Lucky Strikes, that I never took the habit up, as given my low amount of will power with other habits, possibly injurious to my health such as chocolate, wine, and lying reading a book in the bath until my skin goes wrinkly, it would be a sure fire bet that once started on nicotine I would have found it almost impossible to give it up. So anything that helps stop teenagers getting started on smoking gets my vote – so please take note Messers Brown, Cameron and Clegg.

The I should so do list

I recently joined Divine Caroline, an American site, where as part of your profile they ask you to answer a set of questions that I responded to, off the top of my head, as follows:

The five things always on my to do list
1. Write more
2. Sort out of control laundry
3. Tackle filing
4. Introduce consistent approach to parenting
5. Start Bridget Jones approach to dieting (on the grounds all sensible approaches seemed doomed to failure)

If I could donate $1 million to charity, it would go to

Educating girls

My most overused phrase is

Darling (When I told the Drama Queens about this question, they all responded, “darling” in chorus – so I think that’s a fair pick by me)

My Favorite Quote is

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven”
William Wordsworth (This one is also a bit of a reflection of my mental state in that I still consider myself young and indeed have great ambitions to be a young whippersnapper of a ninety year old.)

Having posted my response I then thought that actually a to do list should reflect
one’s ambitions or golden rules to live one's life by, not one’s failures on the housekeeping/child taming/healthy mind in healthy body front. So I have decided I should consider some alternative ones.

The new I should so do list

1. Laugh and Love and talk to (rather than shout at) those I love each day
2. Write Novel
3. Look for the interesting in each day rather than lost socks
4. Remember it’s always the things I don’t do I regret, not the things I actually do, (though a few honorable exceptions to this one do come to mind)
5. Keep in mind people remember whether they had fun at your house, not what they had to eat, (unless you either a) dish up a feast a la Nigella Lawson and even then I think they are probably more riveted by impressive cleavage or b) in the much more likely scenario in my case, you poison them)

Enough of the feel good stuff – I am now off to write that best seller, loosely based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s approach with ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ but probably in my case more realistically entitled ‘Laugh, Love, Drink’.