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.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hobbit with a latte habit

Have just got back from a glorious week of skiing in New Zealand. Despite having lived in Sydney for a grand total of 10 years (in three separate stints – just call us indecisive on the geographic front), I have never actually made it over the Tasman Sea to the land of the sheep and strange piercings. In true cynic form I had dismissed New Zealand’s claim to stunning natural beauty as hyperbole and assumed that all the amazing photos of the landscape were probably shots similar to those taken of miniscule flats by estate agents perched up a ladder in the corner in order to create an illusion of space. Time to fess up – I was completely blown away by how truly beautiful and unspoilt, not to mention unpopulated the South Island of New Zealand is. There was a spot of ancestral yearning going on too, as there are parts that are very reminiscent of Scotland at its best. I am now adding New Zealand to the list of places where I would like to spend a couple of years once we are no longer fettered by children needing a stable location.

The ‘Lord of the Rings’ was shot around Queenstown where we were staying so we hired the full DVD set in homage and spent blissful evenings all tucked up in a giant kingsize bed working our way through the Middle Earth sagas. I kept checking my toes for hobbit like hair as I still haven’t recovered from a Sydney beautician who enquired whether I wanted my toes waxed which has left me with a bit of hirsute feet complex. I found myself watching for feet shots as apart from a fellow sympathy on the hairy toes front I couldn’t imagine how on earth the hobbit actors survived trotting round bits of the New Zealand in their bare tootsies.

Downside of the truly great holiday is it makes the return to the piles of washing and chaos somewhat depressing. I had resolved to remain the calm and fun mother of the holiday, which lasted until approximately 10.30 a.m. when I had my first shout of the day. Like an AA member who has fallen off the pledge wagon I felt a miserable failure but decided it would be best if I took myself off for a cup of coffee rather than risk further splurges on the temper front.

Holiday mood was immediately restored by indulgence of Weekend Financial Times and large skimmed latte. I know I have wittered on before now about what a wonderful eclectic read the Weekend FT is, but I almost always find something that adds colour to my day. Today the article that really resonated with me was by Simon Brooke about shirtmaker Emma Willis who has been making handmade shirts for injured British soldiers. Years ago my mother had two white shirts made for me out of heavy cotton and I have worn them until they are literally falling to pieces. I always feel a million dollars in them and I don’t think any other shirt has ever come close in terms of attractiveness. So I was struck by what an imaginative and confidence building thing Emma Willis is doing and in fact the article was enough to have me wiping my eyes and sniffing unattractively over my coffee as I read the ending quote by 20 year old Tom Lawlor who has lost both legs, “I’ll wear my shirt on Friday. I’ll be going out on my new legs for the first time and I’ll be walking tall.”

On a final coffee international vocabulary note I have added the New Zealand polite ‘trim’ Latte to my list. I now have mantra – when with Kiwis have a ‘trim’ latte after I’ve wheeled my trundler round the supermarket, when in Sydney ask for the typically down to earth ‘skimmed’ latte, and when in New York order what is surely an aspirational ‘skinny’ latte. The US skinny latte tag seemed particularly appropriate, as the favoured greeting in the queue in Starbucks in Rye used to be “You’re looking so skinny” - I used to assume if one wasn’t greeted in this manner by acquaintances (and I never was) they were mentally clubbing together for the Weight Watchers membership.