Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gordon Brown and the white ants

Have come across a great new Australian bit of vocabulary – the unfortunate Barnaby Joyce, formerly the Federal Opposition Finance spokesman but now relegated (or promoted depending on who’s spinning), to Regional development, Infrastructure and Water, is blaming colleagues for “white anting” him. To put it into context, white ant is another name for the termites that are a feature of Australian life. A termite inspection is a prerequisite for a house sale in Sydney and I regularly pay out big time for termite inspections in case the house collapses around us as a result of white ants silently and skillfully chomping their way through the woodwork. Anyway I liked the image of Senator Joyce brought down by the quiet and deadly undermining of his position by colleagues in his own party. I am wondering whether Gordon Brown might have an interest in adding ‘to be white anted’ to the British political vocabulary.

Sleepovers – don’t you love them? In a weak moment I foolishly agreed to Drama Queen No 3 having a mass sleepover last weekend with four of her 10 year old friends and somehow the whole thing metamorphosed into camping in the back garden. I am always suckered into these things by thinking about how wholesome and “Five go Camping” the whole thing is and forget until approximately 2a.m. how tents just move the whole sleepover thing into a new dimension – torchs, things that go bump in the night, dog, possums, moon, no moon, bad language from next door garden and needing to come inside to the loo in an unending relay.

Morning dawned over a crowd of remarkably good-humored children and a pair of exhausted and bad tempered adults. The dog that normally gives true meaning to the phrase excitable was so high it was in dire need of Prozac. Husband retreated to shower where as parents arrived to pick up offspring he could be heard bellowing away like a wounded buffalo owing to the fact the tribe of sleepover girls had used all the towels in defiance of the house towel rule no.542 that states all children found in possession of an adult towel will be hung drawn and quartered.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pass the panna cotta pronto

I can’t believe I have got to the age of 44 without discovering the joy of panna cotta. For some bizarre reason, probably due to my woeful linguistic skills, I had assumed panna cotta was a type of bread – I think I am actually confusing it with panettone. As a result I have always ignored it on dessert menus on the grounds that it was an Italian version of bread and butter pudding. How wrong could I be? A friend brought round a large pot of it to go with summer pudding and I was completely smitten. Sydney is full of fabulous Italian restaurants and delis and this particular panna cotta was definitely the real deal. My mother divides foods into foods worth getting fat for, and the also rans, and panna cotta is definitely on the right side of the ‘worth getting fat for’ line. Acting on the general principle, also a legacy from my childhood, that leftovers are always even more delicious the next morning, illicitly eaten from the fridge with a large spoon, I had a glorious breakfast of porridge, given life and flavour by lashings of summer pudding and panna cotta. If at this point you have an image in your mind of Paddington Bear exploring the bottom of a marmalade jar, well you are not far off the truth.

Apart from getting to grips with the bliss of Italian desserts, one of the things I love about moving countries is the discovery of new authors and books. My favorite book of last year was ‘Jasper Jones’ by Craig Silvey, a 28 year old Australian author from Western Australia. Craig Silvey is really hitting his stride this week in that not only has ‘Jasper Jones’ been long listed for the Miles Franklin Award but he has also been nominated for Cleo Bachelor of the Year. They are both major awards/competitions, in the Australian psyche, though one deals in literature and the other with how ‘hot’ candidates are. I am considering a new party game for aspiring authors based upon the premise of which would you rather win?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Passed the breathalyser, got the FT - weekend made!

Feeling very virtuous as I was breathalysed this morning on my belated way back from the school run – though actually when I think about it being stone cold sober at 10 am on a Friday morning is not actually an achievement of which to be proud – had they been testing for caffeine rather than alcohol I think the outcome might have been somewhat different. Just to clarify things for any UK or US citizen, where I think the police have to have a reason to pull you over, I was pulled over as part of a routine Random Breath Test rather than as a result of my erratic driving. Police road blocks and the associated Random Breath Test are a normal part of Sydney life, particularly on a Friday or Saturday night. There are a couple of spots round us that are traffic bottlenecks and the police are very cunning at setting up the RBT units so there is no option but to go through them. You turn round a corner and see the blue and red lights flashing.and policemen directing you into a lane where you are asked to count to 10 whilst breathing over the machine. I am sure RBTs do have an impact on the incidence of drink driving. It certainly focuses the mind on the need for designated driver, taxi or a long walk home if we are out. The other obvious police presence in our area is the undercover police car, cunningly painted bright purple. I have to say at this point that the majority of people in Mosman drive tasteful, grey, white or black top of the range models so the purple Ford is an immediate give away – note I can only make these snooty remarks about colour of car as we drive an iridescent neon green car demonstrating our utter lack of taste on the car front.

One of the things I love about weekends is the Weekend Financial Times – possibly the best paper in the world in my totally unbiased opinion. It is a very rare weekend that I don’t find something to fascinate and interest me, and the house is littered with scraps of the immediately identifiable pink paper that I have ripped out. Amongst my favourite bits are the Secret Agent column detailing the trials and tribulations of a top of the range London estate agent, the Expat interview, and Miss Moneypenny who comments on anything that takes her fancy – in fact too many great sections to mention. One of the joys is the fact it is completely eclectic, some of the bits I have torn out recently include a fabulous brownie recipe for mothers on the hop from Miss Moneypenny, and a quote from Keats in ‘The Poem” section that I stuck beside my bed “If I should die…………….I have left no immortal work behind me – nothing to make my friends proud of my memory – but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had time I would have made myself remember’d”.

I went with a group of female friends to see a fairly confrontational play called “That Face” last week. I keep calling it, ‘In your Face” by mistake which in fact would also be a rather apt title. I was stunned that it had been written by a 19 year old Brit, Polly Stenham - immediate envy of the talent and confidence necessary to write something that will keep audiences gripped for 2 hours. Still on my gratitude theme I did stagger out of the theatre feeling very relievedl that my own home life looked amazingly calm and composed in comparison to the family that would give dysfunctional a bad name, who were portrayed on stage.

The friends I went to the theatre with were all my Kiwi (New Zealander) friends. I have to say having bright, fun, sparky friends rates very highly on my five to be grateful for daily list. I have come to the conclusion though, based on a careful scientific survey based on the Kiwis we know here and hours of painstaking observation and research over numerous bottles of wine, that all Kiwis of a similar age living in Sydney, are either a) related to each other, b) married to each other, c) or have gone out with each other, and d) refer to each other by nickname (often animal related!) We are talking 2 degrees of separation rather than 6 in this Kiwi in exile environment, and they all know how to party. Add in the compulsory lashings of wine and you have the makings of a great evening.

Husband has just got home to ask why the dog has been dribbling over sofa – had to explain it was just drying itself after a bath – don’t think he regarded that as a particularly satisfactory explanation.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How nude were you?

Dang – I didn’t get my naked bottom in the paper. Monday morning witnessed an incredible mass photo shoot of 5000 naked people at the Opera House. Expectations had been for about 2,000 brave souls – and do bear in mind Monday was the first day of the Australian autumn and true to form whenever you are contemplating taking your clothes off in public the weather had turned a relatively cold and chilly 20 oC, but in the event over 5,000 bared all in the name of art and togetherness. Check out the Sydney Morning Herald Article for a photo of what it, in a headline worthy of The Sun, calls the “Five Thousand Bum Salute” and note the tan lines – you can tell they are Aussies.

The photo shoot by Spencer Tunick was part of the Sydney’s Mardi Gras Gay and Lesbian festival but turned into just a general celebration of the human form in all its assorted shapes. I am really cross with myself that I failed to be sufficiently switched on to get in on the act as I think it would actually be very moving and incredibly liberating to be part of a huge mass of naked humanity. Snorts of disbelief at this point from my nearest and dearest, as all this protestation about the joy of human nudity comes from the woman who goes into contortions on the beach trying to wriggle into swimmers behind a postage stamp sized towel. This changing behind a towel mentality is a sure giveaway of being a Pom on the beach as in the same situation Aussies strip off with the minimum of fuss and towel waving.

Based on our experience, attitudes to nudity differ hugely by country. When our children were toddlers we were back in the UK where we caused mass hilarity by kitting them out in Australian all in one Bananas in Pyjamas, lycra sun suits – these dinky little outfits may be part of the UK summer now but I can assure you that in the early 90’s they were enough to mark us out as bizarre beach goers. In Australia, toddlers run around with sun protection on but quite often scuttle around naked or with no pants – as indeed our children did in the UK. However when we moved to the US it quickly became apparent that child nudity in any form was frowned upon – I never dared test the water on adult nudity as apart from a general clapping of hands over eyes I suspect I would have got arrested if I had tried to change on the town beach, towel or no towel. Some British friends of ours moved into our American town with a two and a half year old boy who ran round naked in their front garden under the sprinkler and then got a anonymous package on the doorstep with a pair of child’s swimming trunks and a note saying “This is the way we do things here” – and that told them, didn’t it!

If Mr Tunick wants to do another mass shoot next year – I’ll be there. I do know though that no sooner have I shed all my inhibitions and clothes, that I will find I am standing next to my headmaster, greengrocer, fitness instructor, Phil from the coffee shop, husband’s boss or indeed anyone I know and my cringing form will be immediately identifiable amongst the crowd by the neon pink blush suffusing my entire body.