Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Who needs snow - Christmas in Sydney

Given the general dismal run up to Christmas in terms of wind and rain, expectations on the weather front were particularly gloomy, so this Christmas Day in Sydney dawned like the best of gifts. It was a perfect hot and sunny Sydney summer’s day and we spent the first part of the morning down at our local beach in company with what seemed like half the world and returned salty and sandy for Christmas lunch with friends. The toast we traditionally have at the start of the meal “To Absent Friends” always makes my eyes prick as I think of our families and friends spread out around the world, but then I think how lucky we are to be all sitting together round the table with good friends in one of the most beautiful settings in the world.

One of the many things I love about Sydney is the way Christmas is the start of the five-week long summer holidays. You slide gently from Christmas into the New Year festivities, crowned by the midnight fireworks that punch the city skyline in multicoloured celebration, and then once they’ve woken up to 2012, it feels as if the population of the Sydney takes off to beach houses, tents, and parents’ places up and down the coast until Australia Day on January 26th heralds the start of the new school year and a serious back to work moment.

As I am now in totally indolent holiday mood I couldn’t come up with 12 questions of Christmas – but thought 6 was pretty good for the season of goodwill and general forgetfulness.

1. Why is it not just the ham that takes on a glazed look as the moment of Christmas lunch approaches and I realise that yet again I have forgotten that roast potatoes take a ridiculously long time when you are working in catering amounts appropriate for a small army?
2. Why do I always do a panic last minute shop on Christmas Eve without checking the fridge and thus end up with approximately 4 lots of open cream?
3. Why did the normally reliable Australia Post suddenly throw a wobbly this year, with the result that we are having an extended Christmas with parcels and cards trickling in? The upside is that it feels as if Christmas is a celebration that goes for weeks – a feeling enhanced by my enthusiastic approach to left-overs, am thinking of publishing a book entitled “Creative ways with Ham.”
4. How was it possible for me to forget that I had squirreled away various presents in obscure places, such as my sock drawer? And how come I always find them on the 27th thus contributing to the extended holiday giving season.
5. What evil genius at Cadburys came up with the brilliant idea of stuffing all the spare Turkish Delights and Cherry Ripes into the ‘Favourites’ box – does anyone actually like those things? Is it only my house that the Crunchies, Flakes, Dairy Milks and Picnics vanish at the speed of light leaving the rejects sitting mournfully at the bottom of the box until I have a 2a.m., desperate for chocolate moment, and lunge at them?
6. How could I not have discovered “Luxury Vanilla Custard” before? As I polished off the remains of a carton last night with some spare Christmas pudding, I particularly liked the serving instruction that having gone through helpful hints about serving it hot or cold, ended up pointing out that you could also just eat it straight out of the carton with a spoon – which of course was exactly what I was doing by that point.

I hope you too had a wonderful Christmas wherever you are. A friend endeared herself to me by saying that she thinks 2012 will be both hers, and my year – and I am very taken by this idea. So here’s to 2012 and may it be your year too!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

And does that come with antlers?

Those who know me know that shy, retiring, little flower is possibly over exaggerating the case, though I would claim along with most of the known world, particularly those interviewed on radio, that I am by nature shy, (does make me wonder whether there is anyone out there who describes themselves as a complete exhibitionist). Self effacing nature or not, it is undoubtedly true that I am fond of bright colours and could often be accurately described as ‘ That one over there in the bright pink’. Given my love of vibrant primary colours it is particularly unfortunate from the harmonious, colour clashing point of view that I drive a metallic green car of a shade that were it about to appear on a colour chart could possibly be accurately classified as “Shrek snot”

It is fortunate I don’t lead any kind of double life – if I did I would have to leave the immediately recognisable car at home. The stand out nature of the car has been made worse by Husband suddenly having a festive rush of blood to the head and attaching antlers – to the car I must add, rather than onto his own forehead – perhaps he’s saving that Christmas treat for the actual day.

The car has an unfortunate design fault in that being a ubiquitous non-flash family mover and shaker, it is roughly the size and shape of a small tank and fails to take into account the fact that small drivers will have the seat rammed up against the steering wheel in order to reach the pedals which means the buttons to operate the windows are not immediately obvious – this is a long winded way of saying that I often absentmindedly open the back windows rather than the front. This particular habit is fine normally as the only consequence is that the drama queens just get an unexpected blast of fresh air, however when you have a pair of tinsel festooned antlers attached by dint of being wedged into the rear window then what happens is they fall off. Unable to bear the humiliation of being that woman in the shrek car with only one antler I then have to pull up and hurl myself through the traffic and retrieve the battered antler with what I hope is a casual and sophisticated air designed to cloak the farcical and humiliating nature of the errand.

It has now become a matter of pride to keep the damn things in one piece until Christmas Eve. As it is I’ve already had to conduct running repairs with a stick rammed up one antler after a particularly unfortunate encounter with the tyres of a Land Cruiser.

I am sure all this kitsch attachment to the antlers, and while on the topic I can hardly bring myself to mention the man sized pop up inflatable reindeer that is ready and waiting to burst upon our unsuspecting neighbours, is because secretly Husband and I are both mourning the Christmases of our youth. Because if you are by birth a Northern Hemisphere person then Christmas is indivisibly associated with dark evenings with houses lit up like advent calendars, cold, snow, rain, Christmas lights, and fir trees . I really love our Southern Hemisphere Christmas with morning swims on the beach, heat and sun, palm trees and a glorious mix of a lunch with oysters, sushi, roast potatoes, turkey, salads, Christmas pudding and ice cream cake, but somehow it just doesn’t feel the same. Though as Sydney is having its coldest December for 50 years, and the rain is lashing down with particular ferocity as I type, I have to admit I am beginning to feel we might be in for more of a traditional UK Christmas than I would actually like – so just keep those antlers crossed that the sun shines for a traditional Aussie day.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bring out the tissues, it's the last hurrah for Primary School

Yesterday was my last primary school Presentation Day as a parent and I’m officially about to start a prolonged period of mourning. Drama Queen No. 3 has reached the giddy heights of Year 6 and is caught up in the extreme social whirl of the last week of school, entailing the kind of celebratory schedule that would leave most List A celebrities reeling. But though I am gearing up for a spot of parental dancing at the Year 6 Farewell on Thursday – a performance already billed as the most humiliating and embarrassing experience of my daughter’s life, the sad fact is that I feel the end of the primary school trek is not just a transition for her, it's a watershed for me too.

In terms of motherhood, forget all those meaningless age categories, and by the way who decided 45 – 60 was a reasonable category, actually what really matters is where you slot on the school ladder. After years of working my way through “Pre-School Mother’ and ‘Kindergarten Mother’ I finally achieved the status of full-blown ‘Primary School Mother’. Adding it up on my fingers, a vital Primary School Mum skill, I make it twelve continuous years of Primary School motherhood spread across three countries, with no time off for good behaviour. Somehow being a full time ‘Senior School Mum’ doesn’t have the same ring about it – I’ve a horrible feeling it means I might have to ditch the jeans and boots as my standard school outfit. Despite two children at Senior School, a Primary School Mum toehold somehow allowed me to consider myself young and feckless – the Bridget Jones end of the spectrum. Senior School Mum somehow doesn’t have the same appeal as a job description, and at the rare times when I appear at Senior School I find myself combing my wardrobe for a skirt – leading to the vexing question, does anyone know what mutton wears, when it throws out the lamb apparel?

The end of primary school means no more staggering across the school playground carrying the child sized science projects incorporating most of the kitchen utensil drawer. No more rummaging through every wardrobe in the house at 1.30 a.m. just in case anyone is hording anything that could conceivably masquerade as a Harry Potter outfit. No more late night wine- fuelled attempts to cover books in sticky backed plastic, only to have them rejected in the morning on the grounds of trapped air bubbles by disdainful offspring.

No more creating cupcakes for the entire class, and just for the record, ‘Masterchef’ has nothing on the stress of trying to match the creative abilities of other parents. I am in fact still mentally scarred from a Kindergarten Holiday Celebration when we lived in the US, where the class party called for a contribution of a traditional Christmas dish from your country. I decided mince pies could masquerade as a Scottish offering, but as I passed around the plate I became aware my festive cooking was being greeted with the kind of rapture traditionally associated with the onset of gastric poisoning. It turned out that mince pies are not a well known delicacy in the US and the rumour had gone round they were made out of sheep’s head – a perfectly understandable mistake for those suffering from confusion about the extent of the Scottish love affair with Haggis, but one it was difficult to recover from, despite my feeble protestations about ‘Fruit mince’.

Friday’s the final day and I’m laying in the Kleenex. As a family we’ve been so lucky to be part of such fabulous primary schools. The best thing about the primary school stage is the friends you make – and I’m not just talking about the Drama Queens’, “I love her, I hate her’ progression through school here. Over the twelve years of sitting in tiny chairs, learning times tables, sports days, swimming galas, science nights, school fairs, school fundraisers, art competitions, band rehearsals, back to school nights and school shows, we have made the type of friends that you can rely on in any crisis ranging from non-appearance at school pick up to the appearance of nits and any form of party/alcohol. So in between sobbing into the tissues, and thus providing DQ no.3 with conclusive evidence she has the most embarrassing parent in the world, I’d like to raise a glass of age appropriate lemonade and say “THANK YOU” to all those amazing people at the three schools, Streatham & Clapham, Midland and Middle Harbour who’ve contributed to the top mark, A starred, smiley face, primary school experience over the last 12 years.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Open Cinema under the stars, summer's here in Sydney

You can tell it is the first day of the summer holidays for Drama Queen No’s 1 and 2, the sun is out, towels draped on lawn and the bathroom seems to have taken on strange sci-fi like purple glow with magenta touches. This last phenomenon possibly not unrelated to the fact DQ no.2 and a couple of friends seems to have dyed their hair what could only be described as an interesting array of colours. Am now bracing myself for enraged calls form angry mothers. My own particular view is that so long as it is back to its normal blonde for the first day of school in February, a time that seems unbelievably blissfully far away, then that’s fine.

I am determined that 2012 is going to be the year that we get to the Open Air Cinema in the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. There cannot be a more spectacular backdrop to a film than Sydney Harbour with the bridge and opera house peeping coyly out behind the screen whilst the fruit bats from the Botanics spiral their way into the night sky. The film programme has just come out and I am dithering away red pen in hand. I’m a bit of a sucker for a suave older man so obviously the two George Clooney films, ‘The Ides of March’ and ‘The Descendants’ have some appeal. Alternatively I could go for my culture vulture side and opt for one of the French or Spanish films, and just hope my neighbours on the night don’t me muttering along in time with the subtitles. The French “First Love” sounds a winner, though based on personal experience I have no desire to find my first Glaswegian teenage love, as I am pretty sure we would both recoil in horror at the sight of one another – but foxy French teenagers obviously fall into a different category.

The modern silent film ‘The Artist’ is also one of the leading contenders. I think there would be something magical watching something that relies so strongly on music score and visuals in such a fabulous setting.

In actual fact I don’t know what I am doing, whetting my appetite in this way with a ‘which chocolate out of the box’ approach to film choice. The reality of the situation is that when the ticket office opens at 9am next Thursday there will be an online scrum worthy of a sell out pop concert, resulting in roughly a three minute space when it is possible to book tickets, so it will be less a question of choosing which film and more hitting the purchase button at random – knowing my luck I’ll end up with “The Inbetweeners Movie’ billed as the adventures of “a group of 18 year old boys in search of their first sexual experience”. Call me a boring middle aged woman but I’d rather remove purple dye from the newly painted white kitchen door - on which happy note …….

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Romance, Mrs Mole and Pasta Bake - what does it for you?

We got home the other night to find the older two Drama Queens enrapt by “Out of Africa”; always gratifying to find your offspring gripped by something you loved. In an effort to gauge how far through they were I asked if they had got to the bit where Robert Redford washes Meryl Streep’s hair – which is one of those moments that I classify as creating a bat-squeak of romance and sensuality. (What a fantastic thing Google is to be sure, I have just discovered that I am indebted for the fabulous ‘bat-squeak’ image to Evelyn Waugh). Being girls they immediately understood why I thought it was romantic whereas Husband being the lone male in the house failed to see any overtones of romance in a good sluicing and dousing of female tresses.

My romantic ponderings were given further fuel by my latest fave rave on the book front, ‘Les Tres Riches Heures de Mrs Mole’ by Ronald Searle the British cartoonist, now in his nineties. The book is a classic example of how romance doesn’t always come neatly packaged in heart shaped boxes, accompanied by diamond rings, chocolates and champagne – not that I’m dismissing these traditional trimmings, I must add.

On New Year’s Eve 1969, Ronald Searle’s wife Monica was diagnosed with a virulent form of breast cancer. The first doctor’s advice was to “put her somewhere comfortable and help her die as peacefully as possible.” Instead they found another doctor who was prepared to help her fight the cancer and she embarked upon 47 gruelling and ‘horrendous’ chemotherapy treatments.

At the time of the cancer’s appearance the couple had just bought a house in the South of France and were beginning the long process of renovation. Every time over the next five years that Monica went into hospital for a round of chemotherapy, Ronald Searle created a picture for her bedside, illustrating for her the riches of life and the future in that house that awaited her.

Whilst Monica lay in a hospital bed, her alto ego Mrs Mole inhabited a world of sunshine and colour. A world in which all the ordinary things in life are celebrated and enjoyed, from tea in bed, singing in the bath, dancing in the snow, quaffing champagne, and wrapping presents to swimming in a very nifty mole bikini.

Miraculously Monica lived for another 42 years, enjoying Mrs Mole’s life in Provence, though sadly she died earlier this year before the publication of the collected drawings, that were in effect Ronald Searle’s love letter to her.

On the face of it, a collection of cartoons about a female mole doesn’t sound like much of a portrayal of hope and romance, but Ronald Searle’s drawings create a tapestry of such love I found it a really inspiring tribute to the value of optimism, love and a life worth living.

Am thankful that I can find romance in prosaic things – hope Husband can too – as he’s just about to get home to discover it’s tuna pasta bake for the second night in a row, to be eaten to the accompaniment of groans from sick child on the sofa – Robert Redford eat your heart out!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Marmite, made to make your mouth water?

I think one of the most evocative things about childhood is the tastes you remember. Whilst Proust may have been a sucker for madeleines, it only takes the thought of an orange smartie, a fruit pastille or a sherbet love heart to get my mouth watering. After Eight Mints were regarded as the height of sophistication in my childhood circles. I was particularly fond of their individual envelopes from which if you were a child of criminal inclinations, you could cunningly remove the chocolate and replace envelope in the box to remain unnoticed until an unfortunate adult took an unlucky dip into what was by then a rustling box of empty envelopes. Another favourite staple was ‘Ready Brek’, a breakfast cereal that based on my memory fits into the gruel category, and whose advertisements featured happy children glowing in the dark with the type of radioactive intensity that would have today’s parents reaching for the Geiger counter. In retrospect this passion seems extraordinary as it has consistency of thin wall paper paste and much the same taste, though I suspect that the golden syrup that we were allowed to write our initials on top of the bowlful of the stuff may have had something to do with my fond memories.

Dependent upon your childhood nationality you either swear by Marmite (if you’re British), Vegemite (if you’re Australian) or just make hawking noises and generally swear (rest of world) when faced by what I regard as the ultimate comfort food. Based on the contents of our fridge I realise we are now the true bi-national family, split right down the middle in terms of our yeast paste allegiance in that I still eat Marmite, whereas the other savoury groupie in the house, Drama Queen no.3 hits the Vegemite when the toast pops.

Fortunately Marmite is readily accessible in Australia, though in a classic bit of rebranding it appears on Australian shelves as "My Mate",(APOLOGIES 'OUR MATE' - conclusive proof of my inability to read what is in front of me - thanks Luce for pointing it out!) thus removing the necessity that was a theme of our New York years, of instructing any guest from the UK to pack a large jar of Marmite and a couple of giant bars of Galaxy chocolate in their bags if they wanted any room at the inn.

Nigella Lawson includes a recipe for marmite sandwiches in her book, ‘How to Eat’. Her description of mixing marmite with butter before spreading it on white bread was enough to have me uttering moans of nostalgic greed, as good quality white bread and marmite is enough to reduce me to a Mastermind moment for those of you who are my British vintage, in that like Magnus Magnusson, I feel a “I’ve started, so I’ll finish’ compulsion coming over me and the loaf of bread vanishes quick smart.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pop goes the pineapple

I couldn’t resist buying this pineapple plant. I have never actually considered how pineapples grow,and if asked would have put it in the 'how many angels cavorting on a pinhead' type basket of tricky questions. If push came to biological shove I would have hazarded a guess at a coconut type tree existence – thus proving my woeful knowledge of tropical fruit propagation. I saw this particular specimen in the local Italian emporium and was immediately besotted, handed over what seemed a very reasonable amount of hard cash for a living curiosity and carried it home in triumph.

When we arrived in America, one of our neighbours very kindly threw a ‘Welcome to the neighbourhood’ coffee morning for us. Being Rye it wasn’t the quick pop round for a cuppa type affair that would be the norm in Australia but rather a full on event with invitations and decorations. Based on the very smart invitation, the theme for the morning seemed to be pineapples, an impression reinforced by the pineapple centrepiece on the hostesses’ table, so impressive it was actually more in the nature of a modern sculpture than a fruit bowl. I discovered that my hostess was sadly not signalling time for a quick round of pina coladas, but was in fact being incredibly clever as the pineapple is apparently a sign of welcome – a less well known fact in the UK, and indeed Australia, where we tend to use a bottle as a sign of welcome, but that’s different cultures for you. However now I’ve got my own particular pineapple production unit, I’ll be greeting guests with a welcoming smile and a flick of the hand towards the table and my own pet pineapple welcome mat substitute.

Friday, November 4, 2011

It's all about Darwin, Darling

As one who generally discovers fashion at the precise moment when the leaders of the pack declare that particular look is passé, there is a certain sweet triumph in being a trendsetter, so the news that Lonely Planet had voted Darwin as one of the top 10 cities to visit in 2012 was a vindication of our ravings about what a fabulous holiday we had in Darwin and the Northern Territory, and I am taking particular pleasure in saying “Darwin, oh yes, just been there. Fabulous, Darling, Absolutely Fabulous” in best Joanna Lumley style.

The dog and builder are making a slow and steady recovery. The builder did take on a Scarlet Pimpernel quality last week in terms of a “they seek him here, they seek him there” feel and I increasingly nervous that we were creeping dangerously close to December where based on my experience all good, and most of the shonky tradesmen disappear for the start of summer and the lure of the surf and sand. However the good news is that like buses, you wait for two weeks for a single tradesman to show and then suddenly as with yesterday, you wake up to find the place is overrun with burly men working in five different places in what one can only hope is a smoothly choreographed manoeuvre.

A friend’s corgi was run over yesterday in dramatic fashion in front of owner, friend and small child. Fortunately he survived going under front and back wheels of a car, though his owner nearly succumbed to a heart attack . Apparently part of the miraculous cheating death experience, can be attributed to lots of thick hair, a build that can only be described as padded and short, big bones – this is all sounding dangerously close to home but at least it is making me feel good about my chances if squashed by something.

Am slightly concerned that the recent birthday heralds the start of my loosing my marbles –I realised with horror this week that I had transferred the payment for the combined gas and electricity bill into Drama Queen No.1’s bank account. Given the lavish way the Drama Queens splash the hot water around in the shower and the household tendency to flick the heating on when the Sydney temperature drops below a level where shorts are a preferred option, we would obviously be one of the energy company’s favourite customers and had DQ No.1 checked her bank account she would have discovered that she was wealthy beyond her wildest dreams (bear in mind normal balance hovers around zero apart from the nano second when her monthly allowance gets paid in). Discovery of the error was enough to have me scuttling down to the bank to remedy the situation in a race against time before she inserted her card into an ATM and discovered the Gods had smiled and coffees were on her.

Monday, October 24, 2011

'The play's the thing'

We went to see the Sydney Theatre Company production of Loot by Joe Orton this week. As ever there is something magical about arriving at the Opera House by ferry on an evening where the setting sun gives Sydney’s major icons an extra burnish. Although before I paint too idyllic a picture of my ferry trip I should point out that true to form I was running late, literally in this case and rather than stepping graciously up the ferry gangplank had to do a 100m dash, arms circling wildly in a fortunately successful effort to implore the captain to wait. Once I had recovered my breath, and managed to find the rest of the party in the Opera Bar for a quick pre play glass of wine I was in the mood for what was billed as a dark comedy. I did in fact enjoy the production, but it seemed to move quite slowly, perhaps because in the intervening years since it was first performed in 1965, dramatic humour has become increasingly rapid fire so at times the dialogue and jokes felt a bit laboured. Having said that I did laugh, quite a lot, and can still remember a couple of lines – always my test of a good book, film, play or conversation, but I would still rank “Loot” as ‘Good Entertainment’ rather than ‘Fabulous’– which of course got me thinking which theatre productions I would put in my own highly selective, not to say judgemental, ‘Fabulous’ category:

1. ‘August: Osage County’ by Steppenwolf Theatre Company who brought it to Sydney last year. The travails of the dysfunctional family had me mesmerised and definitely got my vote as the best thing I saw last year.
2. Bell Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, one of our houseguests took me to this as a thank you present (fab idea) and I laughed so much I had to go back a second time with all the Drama Queens and Husband in tow – and they loved it too despite at least two thirds of the Drama Queens being in an academically induced state where the mere mention of the name Shakespeare is enough to bring them out in the verbal equivalent of prickly heat.
3. ‘Black Watch’ by the National Theatre of Scotland which was on tour in Sydney– visually and emotionally stunning drama focused on the Black Watch regiment in Iraq – any production that warns of risks of explosive bangs and flashes during performance creates a certain frisson of excitement in the audience, and the language didn’t pull any punches but it was such a creative and compelling performance that we were completely riveted.
4. ‘The Producers’ – in Manhattan with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in a 6 week revival of their roles – I can quite safely say I have never laughed so much. Even though it was a Sunday matinee, a performance time that I’ve always viewed as the graveyard shift, the level of hilarity was such that the Broderick and Lane succumbed to hysteria as well and had to leave the stage to compose themselves
5. ‘Shadowlands,’ the intitial stage version with Nigel Hawthorne as C S Lewis that Husband and I went to in London as a pre-marriage Valentine’s Day treat but were reduced to emotionally wrung out sobbing ( in my case) wet rags.

Five ‘Fabulous’ out of the last 20 years of intermittent play going is probably more a reflection of how truly intermittent it has been in the past rather than the state of modern drama – and if I were Meatloaf I’m sure I could conjure up a song along the lines of “Five out of 20 years ain’t bad’ and I am more than happy to sit through numerous ‘Good Entertainment’ category plays in the hope of hitting another ‘Fabulous’

In fact I am feeling very bitter that I have of course left it too late to get tickets to one of the 11 performances in Sydney of ‘Richard the Third’ directed by Sam Mendes with Kevin Spacey in the lead role, that judging by the reviews in London looks as if it might be a strong contender to join the ‘Fabulous Five’

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shaggy dog with lame paw to rival Richie McCaw

Dog inspired by joy following our return from Northern Territory and his liberation from kennels, promptly put its foot in a rabbit hole and instantaneously turned itself into a three legged cripple. Good news was that Drama Queen no.2 misheard vet when he estimated the cost of operation and she went pale in the certain knowledge her parents would not be paying out tens of thousands of dollars to get the dog back on four feet. Bad news was that the correct figure was still enough to make me suck in breath with an audible hiss that had the dog jumping about on its remaining back leg. Good news again, is that dog is insured which is fortunate given his predilection this year for bizarre accidents – anaphylactic reaction to bee sting and expensive operations - anterior cruciate ligament (for the technically minded) this time round.

Dog has been knocked sideways by the operation– almost literally if you take the hopping motion into consideration. Owing to a frenetic desire to get his tongue round the stitches he is now sporting a giant sized cone on his head and to add insult to injury as three legged dog he can’t work out how to cock his leg for a pee - every bit of male dignity is affronted.

Whilst on the topic of invalids in household, the builder is back at work after an injury related 6 weeks off – not that he actually lives with us though I am beginning to think maybe mandatory detention until the job is finished may be the answer. I had a friend from our time in the US who summoned a bat man (I’m sure there is a technical term for this type of person) to deal with a bat that she spotted flying down a corridor in her house. In that obliging way of tradesmen he said he couldn’t find any bat so he would be off now, thanks very much, whereupon being a woman of spirit she reputedly announced he wasn’t leaving until he caught it and she would make up a bed for him in case he had to stay the night. If I remember right she was marching him upstairs, presumably towards the spare bedroom, when the bat sensing its moment, flew past them and he grasped it in relief. I’ve always loved imagining the “Sorry Darling, I’m not coming home. This woman won’t let me leave until I catch her bat.” conversation bat man would have had with his wife. I also think it’s a tribute to my friend’s strength of personality (or perhaps attractiveness) that he meekly fell in with her home detention demands.

NB note dog sitting in front of builder debris!

Rugby world cup almost at an end – sadly my support seems to be kiss of death to any team, as in quick succession the Scottish, English and Australian teams have trailed off the field of play, so I hesitate to announce that I’ll be barracking for the All Blacks. Perhaps I’ll just limit myself to hoping that the New Zealand captain Richie McCaw’s injured foot recovers faster than Pluto’s and that he doesn’t have to wear a cone on his head for the match.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Topping 'Top End' Times - Northern Territory Travels

Sad to relate on current progress I might be recording a Swell-tober on the weight front in October rather than the desired Drop-tober – but the good news is that this is the result of a fabulous two week holiday up in the Northern Territory, the famed ‘Top End’ of Australia where in true Paul Hogan, Crocodile Dundee tradition, men are men and crocodiles come in a more lethal form than the more common urban handbag and belt varieties. We were completely spoilt by the fact that we were holidaying with another family and Ross, the husband, had previously worked in Darwin and spent weeks putting together what felt like the ultimate, personalised itinerary for us all.

Starting off with a night in Darwin we then drove to Katherine, stopping at Litchfield National Park for a swim in rock pools and waterfalls – having carefully checked the crocodile warning signs. Fortunately the most frightening incident of the whole trip was passing a road train – one of the triple length trucks that hurtle at speed down the Northern Territory highways loaded up with freight. As we passed each other at speed it flicked a stone into our windscreen – creating a cricket ball sized dent in the screen though fortunately the glass held. I amazed myself by remaining calm and holding the wheel although mentally I was having an OMG type moment and flinging both hands above my head.

Following Katherine, we drove on to Kakadu after a swim stop at Edith Falls and spent five amazing days at Gagudju Lodge at Cooinda in Kakadu National Park. October is the end of the dry season, so temperatures were in the mid to high 30’s (100 oF +) most days, with the Kakadu landscape an astonishing mix of seemingly arid escarpments and plains crisscrossed by rivers, waterfalls and billabongs that give lushness a whole new meaning.

Around the waterways the birdlife positively teems, and wild horses and buffalo wander through verdant swathes of grass. Pink and white lilies carpet the water edges, providing a picturesque setting for the “snappy handbags” lying deceptively still on the muddy banks or floating goggle eyed just below the surface.

You know it’s been a successful holiday when you ask for highlights and even the teenagers are stumped to single out one event or activity because they’ve had such a good time. Honourable mentions for standout ‘Wow” moments would have to include Drama Queen No 2. catching (and releasing) a 73cm barramundi and the 65cm barramundi caught by 9 year old boy that the chef kindly cooked up for us the following night; the majestic filmset glamour of Jim Jim Falls as we all swam in the massive rock ampitheatre, and the Aboriginal rock art in both Kakadu and Arnhem Land, the Aboriginal owned region adjacent to Kakadu, the images both stunning and humbling in their antiquity. Spending a day in Arnhem Land, with Sab Lord of Lord’s Safaris, a man who puts the ‘real’ into the phrase ‘real character’ gave all of us an unforgettable flicker of insight into life at the 'Top End'.

We ended the trip at Wildman Wilderness Lodge just outside Kakadu, where we stayed for three days of what could only be classified as 'Glamping' in luxury tents. Imagine ‘Out of Africa’ crossed with a Ralph Lauren home living catalogue and you’ve got the general level of comfort. Unfortunately now we’ve given the Drama Queens a taste of high end camping I think our chances of persuading them back into the confines of the family tent are limited, and to be honest I’ll take a double bed and wooden floors over sleeping bag on the ground any time.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Droptober - Dare to Drop and Go

Droptober 2011 is a concept that is currently being publicised in Sydney, The idea is that participants sign up to loose 2Kg in October and to simultaneously raise money for a children’s charity. The initiative is following along in the well known footsteps of Dry July or Movember where participants give up alcohol or grow a moustache for a month – neither of which appeal to me, the latter for the obvious reason that like most women I spend time trying to discourage facial hair growth rather than grooming it into Poirot type handlebars.

The thought behind Droptober is that 2kg is an achievable goal for most people and it often represents the kind of cushion round the middle, cuddly creep that ambushes our figures on an annual basis. Australia is apparently at the top end of the obesity per capita scale – which surprises me as it’s not an obvious issue in the suburb we live in which actually seems to be populated by keep fit racing snakes based on the amount of gym gear and kayaks strapped to the top of cars that you see around. Obesity wasn’t a predominant theme in the American suburb we lived in either – but that is actually probably more related to the fact that obesity has strong links to income levels rather than an accurate assessment of either country’s weight problems.

Monash University in Melbourne put out some facts and figures about Australian obesity in July that point out, amongst other chilling statistics that should have us all tightening our belts, that if we go on as we are, by 2020 80% of all Australian adults and a third of children will be overweight or obese, and that obesity has overtaken smoking in being the leading cause of premature death and illness.

I really like the 2kg idea – as it mimics how you gain weight – no one ever wakes up 10 kg heavier than the day before – or at least the day I do, you’ll hear the screams on a global level. It’s the daily creep that gets you and that I ignore as beneath my notice and so having a month where I say to myself, ‘Okay let’s loose that accumulated creep for the year’, strikes me as a good idea. However I should paint an accurate picture here, such is my twisted psyche that I am immediately thinking to myself, well I might as well devour that chocolate now as it’s still September and then it will be easy to loose it in October, so am not completely convinced it’s going to lead to a whole new healthy way of life.

The other key caveat is that there’s no way I am going public with starting and finishing weight – and I’m not starting some ‘Think of a number’ -(and then double it) competition either - but I will give Droptober a very good go and see if I can do my bit towards maintaining a healthy weight and lowering the national average kilo count.

Friday, September 23, 2011

School's out in Sydney

Hurrah, today’s the end of the third term of the Australian school year, and there’s nothing like the joy of chucking winter uniforms into a large heap. In a slightly bizarre twist to schooling that I am still struggling to get my head round, students in their last year of school in Australia actually leave school at this point. Unlike the UK or US system, all the graduation ceremonies, prizegivings and dinners happen before they sit their exams and they then wander back into school in a strange state of limbo to sit their final exams in about a month’s time. As a consequence of this system, Drama Queen No. 1 will go back to school in a couple of weeks as part of the new top year of school and will start her last year of study which based on parental rumour is going to be a testing year for one and all and I am anticipating that even the dog will be on tranquillisers by the time she picks up her pen in her first exam in 2012.

Drama Queen No.3 is in her last year of the fabulous state primary school that all the Drama Queens attended since the day we marched them more or less straight off the plane from America and into the school gates, with only a quick pause for a detour to the school uniform shop. Anyone who has had to kit out three children in complete school uniform without benefit of sibling hand me downs will sympathise with the sudden choking fit that overcame me when the lady in the shop gaily added up the numbers and handed me the bill. All thoughts of ensuring they fitted in at their new school went out of my head as I handed back bits of kit that in the face of the enormous total I now deemed as completely surplus to requirements - I mean how many sports shirts could 3 girls of wildly different sizes need anyway? 6 years later I look at the uniform rail in the laundry – (am I contender for the Martha Stewart award for neatness or what?) and the answer is that I could now stock the uniform shop almost single handed such is the kit and clobber we’ve collected over time.

As part of the finale of this term, the primary school puts on a school show. The word Show doesn’t seem to quite cover it; Extravaganza would be a better description with every one of the 510 children in the school, from Kindy to Year 6 performing, in full costume. Each of the 21 classes has an individually choreographed dance that they perform with aplomb. I can’t begin to get my head round how you even start with a project of this size – and I’m sure even Cameron Mackintosh would be calling for a stiff gin and tonic if handed the task, but somehow the staff pull it off every year. From a parental perspective I love the fact that every child, from small to tall, tousle headed to impeccably groomed, has a part and is in effect a star. Based on the children’s expressions and the parental bodies in the audience that almost visibly swell with pride, the show is something that really provides that magical word of enrichment that is bandied around in educational circles, to every single child in the school. There is also the additional benefit that the videos that are produced every year are an invaluable source of entertainment and I can already see are going to have a major role in any 21st or wedding celebration – after all Drama Queen No 3 started her career as a dancing banana in Kindergarten and finished year 6 this week as a performing Penguin and how many people can boast that kind of track record?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Drivers and vanity plates

Someone recently told me there are four main motivators for what drives people – Power, Money, Fame and Recognition and most people fit neatly into a single category with regard to their main driver. Having paused a moment to consider what drives me – obviously not power or money as I have taken up teaching, but I’ve come to the slightly embarrassing conclusion that I probably fit in the Fame category or perhaps more accurately the Aspiring to Fame group. Such is my natural drive for self publicity aka showing off, it’s just as well I’m not a Celebrity as I suspect I’d be calling “I’m a Celebrity – Get me out of here” to see if they had any unexpected vacancies.

On the self-publicity front I was amused by a Sydney Morning Herald piece last week on personalised number plates. Apparently the Victorian police are auctioning off a number of vanity plates that have come into their hands through fair means or foul – though in reality we’re probably talking foul here. HITM4N (HITMAN) and D3AL3R (DEALER) and SO RICH were ones that caught my eye – it did make me wonder about the mentality of those who want to drive around either advertising their dodgy profession, surely bizarre if it happens to be illegal, or giving them the benefit of the doubt, revealing their aspirations (also dodgy).

In one of those no sooner do you read something, then you see it moments later coincidences, during the morning rush hour, which I have to point out is a laughable concept compared to rush hour London, I was behind a convertible mini with BIIMBO on its plates – admittedly I’d be done on the trade descriptions front in terms of past sell by date if I attempted to drive round labelling myself like this, but even if I was in a blonde, buxom, prime of life, bikini wearing moment, I think despite my innate Fame driver, I’d hesitate a bit – so perhaps I should reclassify myself as Fame, with timid edges. I use the timid edges phrase in tribute to a university friend who had two strictly segregated parties, one for her ‘square friends’ and one for her ‘trendy’ friends, no prizes for guessing which category I fitted into, but my closest friend was the only person to defy categorization and was invited to both as she was judged “a square with trendy edges”. If I’m honest it’s the state I’ve aspired to ever since – but I don’t think it would fit on a number plate.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ring, Ring, Rugby World Cup calling

My cup floweth over – the Rugby World Cup that it is. In common with most of the male population of Australia, all normal male activity in the Ling household has been suspended in favour of option A) Husband watching games from the comfort of the sofa, remote clutched firmly in one hand for fear of the Drama Queens switching the action to Australia’s Top Model and option B) Husband watching live games down at a bar with a wide screen TV and a collection of motley mates. I am anticipating Sydney becoming very quiet over the next month or so as almost all of the resident Kiwi population and a fair proportion of Aussie males head over to New Zealand as the action becomes more intense. Husband has so far nobly resisted the temptation to jump on the what could be termed a scrum wagon on this one, though I did hear him enquiring of one of my Auckland based friends about the availability of beds in her house in the event of England requiring his support – at least I hope that’s why he was so interested in her bedding arrangements.

Although unlike Husband I draw the line at sleeping with the tournament guide and timetable next to my bedside table, I have to admit a vested interest in the whole thing in that I come from parents who refuse to go on holiday in February as it interferes with the Scottish Rugby team’s fixtures. Being of a partisan nature I am very interested in how Scotland goes, particularly as they are in Group B along with England whose shirt Husband wears (in his dreams). The inaugural match between Scotland and Romania definitely took a few years off my life as I peered through my fingers in horrified amazement as the scoreboard flickered in Romania’s favour. In fact such was the state of trauma induced by the whole thing I managed to loose one of the diamonds from my engagement ring, presumably during a hand wringing episode – perhaps when Romania triumphed to the extent that the senior Romanian coach planted an ecstatic kiss upon the head of his coaching partner, something that as the New Zealand commentator remarked, we really need to see more of in this competition. Fortunately I realised the diamond was missing quite quickly and was able to force a troupe of small girls off Skype and onto ‘Hunt the Diamond’. Much though I hate to admit it, the missing gem is less of a Koh-I-Noor and more of a speck, so I didn’t have high hopes but one of the little darlings proved that girls are indeed a diamond’s best friend and rushed towards me bearing it in triumph.

My next challenge is to try and remember where I stuffed the zip lock bag holding loose diamond and ring in the brief pause between intensive viewing – if I don’t find it, I may be forced despite my natural allegiance to get down on my knees and pray for an English victory, as I am pretty sure the euphoria of that moment will offer the perfect opportunity to break the news of missing jewellery to Husband without risking potential recrimination.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Father's Day - wherever you may be

There are many advantages to living in Australia, including to name but a few, the weather, water temperature (and if like me you were brought up on bracing dips in Loch Lomond and off the beach at St Andrews you’ll know what I’m talking about here), fabulous food and wine, great open spaces just begging to be explored, multicultural and vibrant cities and a sports mad population. I could go on for pages here but assuming you’re not a spotter for the Australian Tourism Board you’d probably rather I stopped – and if you are a spotter in search of purple prose extolling the virtues of the Great Southern Land, well I’m your woman.

However one of the disadvantages for a transplanted Scot living in the Land Down Under is that there is no correlation between either Mother’s or Father’s Day in the UK and Australia. This year Father’s Day in the UK was mid June whereas the Australians have just raised a paternal glass, likewise Mother’s Day was celebrated early April in the UK and mid May in Australia. As a result my poor parents miss out big time in that I never realise, and/or get my act together in time for the UK jollifications and it then seems ridiculous to send a card at what would appear to be a totally random time of the year.

Our builder is still out of action, having fallen down his own stairs and fractured his skull badly. Husband who is a man of action and rash enthusiasm has become bored with staring at building site of back garden and decided to take matters into his own hands. As a result Father’s Day dawned in our household with frantic texts to various friends in the hope that they might number a wheelbarrow amongst their goods and chattels – bad news on that front, based on the scientific texting survey conducted, our friends fall into the Margo and Jerry end of the Good Life gene pool so far as gardening equipment goes – you can tell here I’m trying to manoeuvre myself into a position where I can bracket my name with Felicity Kendall, the earthy heroine of that particular series, now where did I put those dungarees? Despite its location on our very upmarket high street, the local hardware shop came up trumps and I wheeled the newly purchased wheelbarrow past the coffee shops of Mosman with the pride of a woman about to indulge in some forced labour in the garden. Husband had already dug trenches and buried drains and formed Drama Queen No. 3 into his own particular earth moving squad, Drama Queens 1 and 2 had sensibly found pressing engagements after the initial family bonding experience of moving the enormous steel beam deemed to be in the way of the garden project, an exercise that nearly resulted in a mass family booking at the chiropractor.

The back garden is certainly looking tidier, and the turf laying exercise that went on has definitely transformed it. However the female majority of the household has expressed disquiet that the turf laid completely fails to match the existing grass but Husband has assured the Doubting Thomasinas that within weeks it will have all merged and they won’t be able to tell the difference – I’m actually running a private book on that one if anyone would like to join me in a small Father's Day bet.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

You say Voluptuous - I say ??

By now you are probably as bored as I am on the dress saga – but am happy to report that we had a fabulous night and an amazing number of our female friends are still able to slink around looking seductive and stunning in their original 90’s wedding outfits. My chintz dress just about held its own – which given the amount of stiff petticoats incorporated in the design it can do in all but the strongest winds. One of the gentlemen (and I use that term loosely) at the party remarked that I was looking voluptuous in it, possibly a fair comment in terms of all the billowing going on in the way of fabric and flesh. I have always felt voluptuous was polite speak for fat but I have decided to charitably interpret the remark as voluptuous in a Renoir type of way rather than Rubens or horror of horrors, a Lucien Freud rendering of the female form.

The magnolia outside our bedroom window is out and I came across a large sulphur crested cockatoo enlarging a hole for a nest this morning. It was in fact throwing out wood chippings which such vigour that the surrounding pavement looked as if we were into ‘how much wood can a woodchuck chuck?’ territory.

There is nothing like the feel of Spring to bring a smirk to the face and my mood has also been improved by listening to the ongoing saga of the travails of an Australian politician who in a previous existence as a union boss reportedly had his official union credit card used by someone else (obviously) to order room service in the various hotels in which he was staying, from a variety of busty blondes and ravishing red heads. Use of one’s credit card by another person whose name cannot be revealed strikes me as either out of sight loyalty of a touching degree to friend or alternatively a ‘dog ate my homework’ type excuse taken to the limit, but I am storing it up as an explanation for when Husband demands to know the origin of various frivolous charges on the credit card.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Whose doom is it anyway?

“My doom has come upon me.” For the last twenty odd years this has been one of my stock standard quotes that I mutter at all the normal times of stress in a woman’s life including obviously childbirth, parent teacher interviews and bikini waxes. However such is the power of internet that I have just discovered that whilst I thought I was quoting the lines of Tennyson’s romantic and doomed Lady of Shalott I was in fact quoting Hector from the Illiad, setting off for a kill or be killed moment with the Greek army – ho hum. Well never mind I can absolutely guarantee that if Hector was going to have to face his friends clad in a chintz frilly outfit he would have had no doubt that doom, not to mention ritual humiliation was on its way and death in front of a pack of Trojans would look an attractive alternative that would allow him to end his days with at least his reputation intact.

My mood was not improved by trying on wretched dress this morning in the vain hope that the dry cleaning process might have wreaked some miracle on the attractiveness front. I particularly liked the way the lady at the dry cleaners took one look and said firmly, “All we can guarantee is that it will be hygienically clean”, small comfort in the circumstances. Drama Queen No. 3 gazed at me in my now hygienically clean outfit and in a confidence boosting move asked why I didn’t go as a nun. I must admit the idea is beginning to have some appeal apart from the fact that a nun’s outfit seems a particularly inappropriate way to celebrate 20 years of married bliss.

One of my challenges for the day is to gently hint to the manager of the bar where we are having the joint celebrations that many of the guests may be dressed a little unusually. I’m not sure he’s mentally ready for having the place flooded with inebriated 40 and 50 year olds clad in their 90’s wedding best, and I must say I am beginning to have concerns about how many Princess Di fancy frills you can fit in one small bar.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Builders and Brides

There are tantalising glimpses of Spring in Sydney, great wafts of jasmine as I walk the dog in the morning and blossom appearing, however it is still feeling wet, cold and windy a significant proportion of the time. I tell you this not just to give the online weather report for this particular Australian outpost but so that you can visualise the continuing devastation of the former garden now known as the stalled building project. There is a large heap of earth that has been there so long that grass is beginning to grow on it and a giant metal beam has become such a permanent feature that I am expecting the dog to work up a gymnastics routine upon it.

I rang the builder last week to try and ascertain what his thoughts on the next step were – polite code for “Where the bloody hell are you?” as it had been over a week since brawny men had last been spotted on site. His wife picked up his mobile and rather cagily announced he was ill and unable to speak to me. Being a nasty cynic I had a vision of him sitting on the sofa making get rid of her faces at this point. However it now transpires that ill is actually an understatement, he has a badly fractured skull and is going to be in hospital until at least Monday.
I am of course appalled by this news as I know what a nightmare it will be for him – however the self-centred side of me is shrieking ‘But what about my kitchen and garden?” However I have managed to keep my selfish side, that I don’t like to own up to, under control to the extent that I have added “Get well card “ to my ‘To Do’ list and am contemplating sending him a copy of what I regard as the Hearty Male classic, “Don’t tell Mum I work on The Rigs, She thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whorehouse” as his recovery reading.

I am still on the hunt for a wedding dress to wear to the 90’s nuptial revival evening. True to form it’s just my luck I throw a party with a couple of friends who in terms of figure, could only be described finest quality racing snakes who can zip into their original 1991 wedding dresses with a shrug of their shoulders as opposed to industrial strength reinforcement and tugging. I have drawn the line at appearing in my original meringue outfit although my mother is sending over my veil so I can at least make a token effort to appear in the original garb. I have also made a couple of forays into Vinnies, the Australian charity shop where I did find a couple of wedding dresses in my size (2011 rather than 1991 that is) but if I say they had sparkles, twinkles and lace in places even Barbie doesn’t go, it gives you an idea of the full horror of the situation.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hip Hip Hippo-suction

Wet and cold in Sydney, and the back garden in its mid construction stage is looking particularly unattractive. The general charm of the scene is enhanced enormously by the washing on the line drifting sadly round on the Hills Hoist. The clothes are now wetter than they were emerging from the machine and are destined to hang like sad ghosts until we get a bit of sunshine. The builder is very disapproving of my habit of leaving things on the line through rain and shine until they eventually dry, even if it takes days. He was actually being quite charitable in his criticism of my approach to housekeeping as I am sure if he really wanted to let rip he must have gathered quite an accurate idea of my normal domestic standards, however I did feel somewhat annoyed as he is the man who has reduced the back garden to a pile of rubble and then in a move I should have anticipated, has disappeared to finish another job elsewhere, presumably for someone with higher standards on the wet washing front.

Excitements this week have included filling in the Australian Census. I took the executive decision that I should fill it in for everyone in the household, as I felt the question of how much childcare and housework each adult did might lead to heated argument if I invited other parties to join me in the form filling process. I was very tempted to tick yes for the question ‘Does the person ever need someone to help with or be with them for, communication activities? For example: understanding or being understood by, others.’ There seems to be a strong case for ticking this box for each of the Drama Queens as we often get to the point where I feel I need a full time translator of speech and mood.

Non-novel production time wasting activities this week include the stress of trying to decide what to wear to drinks that call for 90’s wedding garb. I have been gazing sadly at my 90’s ball dress and wondering a) did I ever look attractive in it b) is there any way short of radical options like liposuction – or perhaps this should be accurately named Hippo-suction, of my actually getting back into it for night of 90’s reverie, and c) what are the chances of my being able to remove the interesting stains it has gathered over the intervening 20 years of intensive partying and many an outing from the dressing up box – it last starred as a Japanese Wedding Dress in a year 6 project.

In a vain attempt to deal with point c) it is currently soaking in the laundry but that of course still leaves points a) and b) unresolved. The sole point in my favour is that it was a lace up dress so at least there is some give as it were – though I am not sure laces stretched horizontally with the strain across my back is going to be a good look – however given the whole thing is made out of a beautiful chintz fabric, good on sofas and curtains but less flattering for those cruising through 45 perhaps the lacing is the least of my worries and perhaps the answer to the whole dilemma is an exuberant hat – I can at least be pretty certain my head is roughly the same circumference it was in 1991.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Not now - I'm supposed to be writing a novel - 101 ways to waste time

I feel this might be the point to confide in you all that I am trying to write a novel – which of course explains why I spend so much of my time procrastinating and fiddling aound with a vigour that would put Nero to shame. In an attempt to create a sense of urgency along the lines of ‘let’s get the damned thing finished’ I am trying to write 1,000 words a day and half the time it flows with a speed that would make treacle look like a Speedy Gonzales type of matter.

Today’s creative ways to waste the idle hour that should be used to crank out the sparkling prose include
a) teaching the dog to use the new dog door that the builders have just created for him. Up to this point his method of entering and exiting the house has been to march up to the glass back door and claw vigorously on it until one of his loyal handmaidens opens it for him. Apart from the generally detrimental effect on my nerves the clawing has given the glass in the back door a rather psychotic frosted look. The dog door lessons have included such highlights as sticking my head through small opening and making enticing noises whilst simultaneously wondering if I can reach my mobile phone to summon fire brigade if I manage to get stuck.
b) Boiling 7 eggs to make into egg and cress sandwiches for an art show at school. Have lost faith in my culinary skills to such an extent that I found myself googling “how to make an egg sandwich” which used up at least quarter of an hour. I am sure this loss of confidence in the face of school catering challenges dates in part back to the mince pies I provided for Drama Queen No. 2’s Kindergarten Christmas party in America. The plate of tastefully icing sugar sprinkled mince pies remained untouched to my embarrassment. I subsequently discovered the rumour had gone round that they were made of sheep’s head, a perfectly understandable confusion between haggis and mince pie here and this factor may have gone some way to explain the other parents’ plague like avoidance as I waved the plate in their direction
c) Having a go at sorting the sock basket, a soothing type of occupation that involves lining up the 30 or so spare socks lurking at the bottom of the clean washing basket - and then discovering that none of them match and chucking them back into the basket. Husband is not helping the situation, in that despairing of ever finding a matching pair of socks, he has taken to just pairing approximate matches thus perpetuating the problem big time.
d) And that of course is all before you get to all those wonderful internet linked timewasters – today’s top treat was having a look at You Tube clips of Isabella Rossellini’s nature films where she dresses up as various insects and animals and re enacts their mating habits. I particularly like the spider one but after 20 minutes of idleness – sorry dedicated watching of these art movies, I have to say, you couldn’t make it up.
e) Making endless cups of tea and opening the fridge to gaze aimlessly at the contents as if some miracle has occurred and the motley selection within has been transformed into some tempting type of treat. On which note have just made myself another cuppa only to discover bits of cress floating in it - cue bad pun I guess I might be feeling cress-fallen!

Friday, July 29, 2011

It's a small world (after all)

On Wednesday it was the auspicious day that Husband and I hit 20 years of wedded bliss. In many ways it is an amazing achievement, not least because it seems only the other day I was skipping up the aisle arrayed in true milkmaid style – we are talking the 90s penchant for Diana-like dresses that had a life of their own here remember. Given the personalities involved, particularly once you add in the Drama Queens who made grand entrances into the reality show tentatively termed “Lings on tour”, it is quite extraordinary to realise we’ve made it to 20 years, but I should note that Husband a) makes me laugh more than anyone else I know, b) is still interesting enough to go out to dinner with on a regular basis and c) my heart still leaps when I see him across a crowded room.

I am wary however of the curse of ‘Hello’ where married couples parade their immaculate houses and marriages in printed form in front of the inhabitants of hairdressers on a global scale and two weeks later the happy couple are revealed to be independently seeking legal advice on what constitutes an unacceptable interpretation of the marriage vows. Given the obvious link in terms of reader numbers between ‘Hello’ and this blog, I will therefore opt for prudence and draw a rather appropriate veil over the romantic ramblings and move on to the rather bizarre turn the anniversary evening took.

We had booked to go out to dinner and on the spur of the moment decided to catch our local ferry across the harbour. Travelling by ferry on either a sunny day or amongst the lights at night is one of the major treats of Sydney life and I don’t do it often enough. On this particular occasion we were the only two people getting on at our local stop and there were only seven people getting off so it was hardly a bustling scene.

Husband recognised the first person off the gangplank and gave him a manly wave of the hand. Being by nature a competitive person I immediately scanned the rest of the passengers to see if I could produce an acquaintance of my own and to my gobsmacked, open-mouthed amazement saw one of my closest friends from university strolling off the ferry. He was equally stunned as a) we last saw him in London at least 10 years ago, b) he had forgotten we lived in Sydney (or so he claims) – in which case it must have been a fairly major shock for him, c) he was only in Sydney for a couple of days on business and d) he was of course a guest at our wedding 20 years ago to the day.

There are two major lessons to be learnt from this:

1. Coincidence is a very bizarre thing


2. Sydney is a very small city so if you are one of my nearest and dearest, oldest of friends don’t even dare to think about sneaking in here without ringing in advance and if not booking a bed in ‘Domestic Delight’ at least setting up an evening where we can discuss the merits of Australian wine and recall when we not only behaved like teenagers but actually looked like them too.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Beautiful lies and beautiful toes - how bare do you go?

Just been to see Audrey Tautou in the French film Beautiful Lies – came home still aflow with laughter and romance and am planning on taking the whole household kit and caboodle comprising husband, three resident Drama Queens and two Scottish Exchange students who are in residence for a couple of nights to see it. After steady diet of okay ish films – this one was like quaffing a cold gin and tonic after a monotonous diet of thick milkshakes – however perhaps that should be like a vodka and tonic given the way all the characters down vodka in moments of stress. Am in fact considering taking up vodka as drink of choice as even after a bender Audrey still looks unbelievably glamorous and attractive.

Realise I will never be true Aussie as in contrast to the Drama Queens and most of the local male population I do tend to wear shoes if I am popping up to the shops or indeed anywhere that qualifies as out of the house. A couple of days ago, in pouring rain and 12 oC, I met a man up at our local shops, fully dressed but in bare feet. Considering I was clad in my favourite leopard skin wellies it is hardly as if I was setting the sartorial footwear bar particularly high, but whilst I admire the practicalities of the idea that if you’re going to get wet anyway why not just paddle around in your bare feet, I was puzzled by why you would then also wear long trousers and shirt – the over all look was of someone who had absent-mindedly forgotten to put on shoes.

We do live in a beachside suburb, albeit a harbour beach rather than surf, so it is quite normal to see people wandering in and out of shops clad in swimmers, towel and no shoes – behaviour that would have led to detention by the police or mental health doctors in America. The DQs and most Aussies don’t think twice about setting off with bare tootsies for the day to the extent you come across notices in pubs and restaurants saying shirts and shoes will be required. My most extreme encounter to date was on the escalator in David Jones the upmarket department store in the middle of Sydeny. I looked down and noticed that the beautifully dressed man next to me was sporting bare feet hovering nonchalantly over the revolving metal teeth of the escalator – quite enough to make my bottom hurt.

My brother in law once walked over Sydney Harbour Bridge with no shoes on – a satorial event that palls into insignificance compared to the fact he didn’t have any clothes on either other than his boxer shorts as he had locked himself out of our apartment – history doesn’t relate what he was doing prancing round the doorstep in his boxers in the first place but I’m sure there was a good explanation. Testimony to what a laid back city Sydney is that you can stroll across one of the national icons, through the central business district and into your brother’s office wearing the modern equivalent of a loin cloth and no one will stop you or even raise an eyebrow.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hear, Hear for the rain in Sydney

Joy of joys, it’s that wonderful moment where you discover at 7 a.m on a Saturday morning that all school sport is cancelled for the day, meaning that the entire household can go back to bed. One of the discoveries of my student days was that there is nothing nicer on a slightly chilly morning that slithering back into a still warm bed.

It’s nice to find something to feel positive about with regard to the ridiculous amounts of rain that have been cascading down on Sydney over the past week. I was reduced to fury by weather forecasts that kept announcing “showers’ or in a concession to reality “heavy showers” for Sydney – personally I felt ‘monsoonal rain’ or ‘near continuous tropical downpours’ would have been a more accurate assessment of the situation.

I am feeling particularly bitter about the rain as I feel in part I am the cause of it – as I explored in this article I only have to commission some type of building project and you can guarantee any carpenter in the area will be hauled off the job in preparation for ark building.

It’s hard to describe how desolate the back garden looks – half finished construction projects have a special woebegone appearance. To put things in context even Sydney Harbour has lost the tones and colours that sparkle their way across the blue and green spectrums and is now sporting what could only be termed a revolting muddy brown shade as the result of all the run off.

The highlight of my day yesterday was I got a cold call where I really couldn’t make out who was speaking. After I’d hollered ‘You’re really going to have to speak up” and “I can’t hear you” and basically given a complete Oscar winning impression of an ear trumpet holding octogenarian the lady at the other end said apologetically that this was the local hearing clinic wondering if I’d like to take advantage of their free testing programme. I of course announced grandly that I didn’t fit the non-hearing category – thankfully I couldn’t hear her snorts of disbelieving laughter.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cooking up a storm - wonder if Jeffrey Archer's free?

I am having to get up early despite the fact I am officially on holiday as the builders who are currently turning the back garden into a Somme look alike arrive at 7am and there is a ridiculous ‘what will people think’ part of me that means I can’t appear in front of them clad in my granny nightie and Nora Batty type sheepskin slippers – as you can probably deduce, vanity is the prime driver here rather than modesty.

One of the discussions between the Drama Queens in the car during one of our prolonged ‘trips of terror’ otherwise known as clocking up DQ no. 1’s driving hours was how you could go off a song once someone you hated liked it– remonstrance from me that hated is not a word you use about people. This has always been one of my mantras to the extent I once overheard one of the Drama Queens at the pre-school stage saying very piously “hate is a word we don’t use in this house” when some small friend declared they hated peas - or more likely the food in general in my house. However hating friends aside, I have to confess to a small frisson of disquiet when I read Jeffrey Archer’s selection of the best short stories in The Week. Amongst his top five he had nominated two of my all time fave raves, Sredni Vashtar by Saki (actually I’d include almost all the Saki short stories) and Bernice Bobs her Hair by F. Scott Fitzgerald which I used to use (very unsuccessfully) as my teenage guide to how to attract a man. It’s not that I ‘hate’ or even dislike Jeffrey Archer, in fact I think he is rather a splendid character, but it is disconcerting to find you have so much in common with someone who is so very different – or perhaps more accurately it is a tribute to the great short story that appeals to such different people.

One of stand out features of my trip to the UK is the way in which all my Sydney friends rallied round the helpless husband – he is in fact not all helpless, being far more competent than me in the kitchen department but judging by the offers of dinner and delivery of food parcels he is obviously rated as unable to pick up a kitchen spoon or more worryingly seen as delectable dining companion by all my nearest and dearest female friends – perhaps it is time the nightie and slippers got a make over for his benefit rather than the builders. Humiliation continues to be heaped on in shovelfuls in that the Drama Queens are demanding that I get copies of all the recipes for the delicious dishes delivered to our doorstep. I just know the end result – I will slave away to recreate the dish only for my assembled expectant crowd to stare disbelievingly at the plate and declare, ‘but this isn’t what Judy/Diana/Libby’s X looked and tasted like’ and like an unsuccessful Generation Game contestant I will be sent home having failed to imitate the masters – (NB you really will have to be my Generation to remember the Generation Game though I was pleased to see Brucie is still going strong with a starring appearance at Wimbledon – wonder how the lovely Anthea is going? Still twirling presumably).

I have just come across the most fabulous George Eliot quote that I have stuck up above the stove to cheer me up as I wrestle with yet another ‘Mummy Surprise” dish:

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” – and on that note am off to pursue life as actor and writer – please send all future correspondence c/o my agent.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Little lamb who made thee - that skimmed latte? (with apologies to William Blake)

Sunday was a beautiful morning, and Husband and I walked the dog up to the Shot Café, one of the more picturesque local spots. The café is perched on one of the headlands looking out to the Heads as the looming cliffs that guard the entrance to Sydney Harbour are known. It was all a fairly normal scene of couples and families sitting around having a leisurely breakfast/caffeine intake, dogs are not supposed to be around the tables but this is the suburb of indulged pooches and our particular menace was tucked under the table. One of the other tables had what I assumed was a particularly prissy type dog, clipped to look like a lamb, but then in a reverse of the wolf in sheep’s clothing gag, it folded its gangly white legs in a completely un-canine way and revealed itself as the real McCoy, a week old lamb on a fetching blue lead and harness that set its snow white fleece off to perfection. The dog noticed the sheep imposter at the same moment as I did and did the equivalent of a doggy double take before spending the rest of breakfast doing back flips in a vain attempt to pop over and lick its chops.

The concept of taking your lamb out for coffee made me laugh and reminded me of the book I am currently reading (and loving), “Wait for Me” by the Duchess of Devonshire, the youngest Mitford sister. Early on she recounts the story of her paternal grandmother who used to have a pet pig that accompanied her on a lead to church.

Have now decided the black Schnoodle is passé and am contemplating what type of pet accessory a fashionable girl such as myself should be escorting. I could rustle up a Guinea Pig no problem but it could take us some time to get to the post office and back. In the interim I’m taking the said Schnoodle to be clipped tomorrow, so I will of course be requesting a lamb like clip and he can masquerade as the black sheep of the family, a role he fits to perfection.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

'Home is the Hunter' - of Percy Pigs that is

It’s almost 6a.m. in Sydney and I am in that jetlagged induced haze where lashings of toast and an ancient copy of an Agatha Christie seem the only viable alternatives to lying in bed thinking about being wide awake when everyone else is asleep.

I have just had ten days in the UK with Drama Queen No.2, on a quick visit to catch up with family. Much to my disappointment the flight safety videos contained no surprises on the naked flight attendant front, and none of the crew broke into any kind of dance routine.
(If you looked at the Air New Zealand body paint video I mentioned in my last post, you might also enjoy their equally compelling disco dancing jive your way to safety take on the flight safety video front

In fact the only disco dancing moves performed en route to London were my attempts to clamber back into row 73 of the plane – for those of you who have never strayed far from the pointy end of the plane on a 747– I should put Row 73 into context – basically if you’ve ever watched movies of parachutists jumping out of the backs of planes, Row 73 is at the pull ripcord, point of no return, moment.

In the interests of travelling light I had decided that there was no point packing raincoats for Drama Queen No.2 and myself and thus pulled down the curse of the British Summer upon our heads. I have lived in my jeans and sweaters aside from the one day when the weather put on a stellar display of what an English summer day should be in what was termed the English Heat Wave. Based on the ‘blink and you missed it’ nature of the good weather I feel more inclined to term it the Mexican Heat Wave as it rippled through the country before we were plunged back into our wellies. The notion of breaking out my shorts resulted in a bitter and incredulous laughter. As for my swimsuit – I’m not quite sure what kind of parallel world I was living in when I packed it – aside from its uses as an extra layer of clothing in extremis it is difficult to imagine the circumstances is which I might have worn it over the last ten days. To be fair I think the weather was actually good in parts of the country but I seemed to be on one of those bring the clouds with you type trips as I shot between Edinburgh, Southampton, Devon and London - staggering into Barclays Bankin Balham dripping wet and wearing my hostess's wellies will remain the defining memory of the trip.

Tyler Brule who is one of my favourite columnists in the FT Weekend, ranks the world’s most liveable cities in his publication Monocle, and this year Sydney made it to a much deserved number 7 spot. He made the point that sometimes what makes a city fabulous to live in is not always the obvious, for example he rates decent water pressure in order to ensure a shower superior to the London dribble as one of his essentials. Reading his essentials made me consider about what I love about Sydney and I came up with following key points;

1. Proximity to the sea – the sanity of dipping one’s toes into the water and walking bare foot along the sand at the end of the day is hard to beat – (NB I am not talking about a North Sea blue to the bone type of seaside exposure at this point.)
2. Ability to get a decent cup of coffee, with the option of drinking it sitting in the sunshine watching a parade of street life wander by.
3. A village feel, Sydney is very much a series of neighbourhoods characterised by small independent shops and I love having a local butcher, baker and if not a candlestick maker certainly a fantastic cookware shop that could rustle up a variety of romantic lighting in the flame line.

However before I rabbit on too much about the joys of small shops, I have to admit I am a UK supermarket groupie – they are just fabulous and completely world beating. Merely entering a Waitrose is enough to have me sniffing the air in an ecstasy of gourmet greed. If I had to define it, the key difference between supermarket shopping in Australia and the UK is that I very rarely wander round our perfectly good supermarket in Australia going “yum must have that’ if you discount the confectionary section, whereas in Waitrose I am having to restrain myself from loading the trolley with everything in sight as it all looks so delicious and tempting. On that note might have to pop back to bed, particularly if I can find the bar of Galaxy I brought back from the UK – highlight of Australian customs experience on reaching Sydney was disclosing the 16 packets of Percy Pigs D Q No 2 had purchased, that had the effect of reducing the Customs Officer to giggles particularly when I added in my Tuck Shop sized grab bag of chocolate.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Simple Bare Necessities - the Kiwi way

It’s the Queen’s Birthday weekend so naturally the weather is filthy. There is a certain smugness to having decided against taking ourselves off to a beach house for the weekend. There are in my experience a limited number of activities suitable for both adults and children in the freezing cold of a strange house, watching the rain trickle down the windows.

I am long overdue for a haircut and so felt an immediate tug of affinity for the New Zealand icon ‘Shrek the Sheep’ who died this week and who was described at one renegade point in his life when he had been evading the clippers for some year, as resembling a sheep caught in a giant puffball. Watching the clip from the BBC recording the life and times of Shrek has given me hope for a similar transformation when Roger my own personal clipper applies the shears to my hair later on this week.

Husband has just returned from a couple of days in New Zealand and found himself goggling in amazement when he realised the Air New Zealand flight safety video he was watching was being conducted by staff wearing body paint. In terms of then giving the briefing his full attention there is no doubt he was completely riveted as the comely hostesses cunningly holding props over their vital bits pointed out exits and how to locate your life jacket. I think it is an absolutely brilliant idea and I can’t think why other airlines aren’t adopting the nude briefing approach. What I liked most was how much the staff obviously enjoyed making the clip, the pilot endearingly appeared on the edge of hysterical giggles most of the time.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit ....?

Drama Queens 1 and 2 have just finished a week of exams – calmness has not been the operative word in the household, to the extent that I was standing behind a woman in the chemist yesterday who appeared to be discussing the symptoms of worms in children - irritability was tipped as a key factor and I had to restrain myself from jumping the queue and ordering a lifetime supply for the teenage members of the family.

One of the things about living outside the country you grew up in is that at times you are overcome with cravings for the foods of your childhood. The passing of time and the fact you can’t get your hands on them easily imbue them with recollections of fabulous taste and texture. During the four years that we lived in America I invested a fair proportion of time sucking up to the owner of the local Irish shop in the hope of securing first rights on the regular shipments of Irish sausages and chocolate – the American versions of both varieties of food illustrating the taste expectation gulf between the US and UK. It was a Red Letter Day when there were Chocolate Buttons in stock, let alone the glorious week when I managed to purchase a case of Hula Hoops – I felt like throwing a 60’s themed party and inviting all my British friends round, just for the pleasure of passing round little nibbles dishes filled with the things.

Australia scores pretty highly on the fabulous food front and I have become a convert to the great Australian icon – the Tim Tam biscuit, so I wouldn’t want to conjure up a picture of a snack desert here, but at times I do yearn for the top treats of my childhood – interesting note here the types of food one craves tend unsurprisingly to be more of the Jaffa Cake than the Jaffa Orange variety.

Our guests over Easter were treated to a mass drooling session focussed on our favourite UK biscuits during their visit – and once they arrived back in the UK they very kindly sent us a giant package filled with Penguin and Club biscuits. I took the precaution of hiding a Club Biscuit for myself before the gannet like children arrived home from school, fondly imaging myself lying in bath with good book and chocolate biscuit – sad type of fantasy I know, but that’s what happens when you turn 45. For those of you unfamiliar with the Club biscuit, I need only launch into the advertising jingle that was popular when I was a child of “if you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit, join our Club”. Based on that criteria, this is the type of club that I would be signing up for life membership, regardless of cost. You can guess the sad end to the story – when I went back to the pantry cupboard to rootle at the back of the tins of butter beans where I had cunningly hidden the biscuit some child led by an inherited homing instinct so far as chocolate goes, had snaffled it. Irritable doesn’t even come close to describing my mood –pass the worming tablets quick – preferably the chocolate flavoured ones.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Zoom into Zumba

Bored of thinking of creative ways of describing myself that avoid the dreaded words ‘couch potato’, I have joined the local gym though I haven’t yet invested in the obligatory lycra, preferring to garb myself in billowing garments that retain an element of mystery with regard to my exact dimensions. Ever a sucker for novelty I decided I should give the Zumba class a go. For those of you who spent part of your youth in the character building world of Brownies and Guides, Zumba is probably ringing bells of campfire songs – I am sure there was a Zumba in the one that went “Hold him down you Zulu warriors” - anyway I digress, this Zumba refers to the latest exercise craze, billed as getting fit to hypnotic Latin rhythms.

I should have taken the hint when I enquired of Drama Queen No. 1 whether a rumba into Zumba was going to be a suitable form of exercise for me and she remarked in what could only be regarded as a meaningful way, that it was fine if you could actually dance. I have in fact discovered that there is nothing that embarrasses the Drama Queens (and indeed most teenagers) more than their parents taking to the floor with dance routines last seen when Travolta was wearing white suits. In fact I think I may have hit upon a sure fire way to break up a teenage party – join in, with enthusiastic waves and eye contact, and I suspect every teen in the house will melt into the night – and your daughters will never speak to you again.

It has been obvious from my earliest years that I was never going to join the ranks of ballerinas. Pink tutus may offer endless opportunities for glitter and fairy tale moments but are absolutely hopeless at converting square children into ethereal prima ballerinas.

Things didn’t improve much during my teens, though being a Scot did help in the sense that whilst it is obviously a benefit if you have some sense of rhythm in the melee that passes as Scottish Country Dancing, I am living proof that the ability to whoop loudly and bounce around with enthusiasm is an equally important attribute. Likewise I am very fond of the Rocky Horror Music Show Timewarp anthem, with its very clear instructions regarding ‘hands on the hips, step to the left and jump to the right,’ all moves well within my teenage capabilities.

Salsa is a word that I associate with chips and dip likewise, shimmy, slither, and slide are foreign concepts as became painfully apparent as the Zumba class progressed. It’s no coincidence that so many of these words begin with ‘S’ for that indeed was the seductive shape that the majority of my class mates slid into led by the snake hipped male instructor.

In one swift uncoordinated move to the right, whilst the Zumba line up was lithely swaying left, I was transported back to the late eighties when I worked for a Japanese bank in Tokyo. At eleven o’clock every day we would stop for the compulsory regimented callisthenics session, when all the employees would stand behind their desks and jump and stretch in response to loudspeaker instructions. Speaking a limited amount of Japanese which certainly didn’t include the words for “Touch your toes” or “Star Jump” I always just carried out the previous day’s routine which led to some interesting mid air collisions with my fellow workers and my bottom poking in the air whilst everyone else was twirling their hands.

The upside of Zumba was I skipped out of the class, with a post exercise glow, (polite way for saying covered in sweat) and fired up by those exotic rhythms was ready for the first Latin romance of the day, the downside was that the class was probably conclusive proof that far from being a salsa seductress on the dance floor I am more a bagpipes kind of dancing queen.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Shock News - it does get cold in Sydney

Nights have been on the chilly side in Sydney recently and I had a memory of seeing a recent headline along the lines of “Coldest May night in Sydney for ……” so I immediately googled it only to find out it had been the coldest May night for four years which I have to say is a ‘so what’ period of time. Am now feeling cheated that it wasn’t the coldest night for 100 years which would have had the cold chill satisfaction of making statistical history rather than being a mere blip.

We are fortunate that we do have a form of heating – health warning to anyone contemplating a move to Sydney, heating doesn’t come as standard and though 5 oC (41 oF) is the coldest it has got since we’ve been here – when it’s 5 oC inside your unheated house you start doing mad and environmentally unfriendly things like turning on the oven or in the case of some desperate friends in a similarly heat deprived situation in Hong Kong, bringing your barbeque inside for a spot of family heat therapy and a possible dose of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

The upside to the cold mornings is that Sydney has had the most fabulous week of glorious sunny weather during the day. Hard to do justice to the splendour of a Sydney Autumn day but it is sufficient to put everyone in a good mood and to pack the outside tables of all our local cafes with people basking in the sunshine under a vibrant blue sky.

One of the things that made me sad when we left America for Sydney was the fact that I had so gloried in the American Fall and the amazing colours as the trees turned. I would find myself coming to a halt as I drove through our local town as I came across sweeps of trees turning red and gold. You can imagine how popular this halt and leaf peek manoeuvre was with the drivers behind whose faces turned an interestingly appropriate Fall Crimson. The Australian native gums don’t change colour and in fact lose their leaves all year round. They do however do an interesting bit of bark shedding where at certain times of the year they discard their old, tired looking, brown, shaggy bark and emerge sylph like with smoothly grey and elegant trunks – can’t tell you how I long to work similar miracles with my skin. However the imported trees in our road have been doing a fabulous job on the autumnal colour front so I thought I post a couple of photos – note the tangle of wires that acts as a possum highway.

Along with not bothering to have heating inside their houses you can also tell a true Sydneysider, particularly the male variety, by the fact that they wear shorts all year round, regardless of external temperature. My father spent his school days in regulation shorts which represents slightly more of a hardship considering he was at a Scottish boarding school where 5oC was presumably ranked a balmy day. My mother always claims that this permanent early exposure to the elements was reason that he has such very fine legs in a kilt – however I have no such ambitions so will be swaddling myself up as the temperatures drop.