Thursday, February 24, 2011

Out with the old, in with the new - or should that be in with someone else's old?

We’ve just had Council General Clean Up day for our street, a biannual event where the council garbos will pick up anything (within reason) that you put out outside your house. It is in fact a glorious excuse for a massive clear out, though obviously this has to be done with sensitivity with regard to cherished family possessions. I now have a large biscuit jar with particularly attractive black and white cow markings sitting on my hall table, as having been caught with it en route to the giant pile outside the gate, I attempted to feign innocence by pretending that I was merely moving it to a more prominent position where it could be admired by visitors as they step inside the house.

The best thing about clear out day though is that it offers wonderful trash and treasure opportunities to shoot up the road and pick through all the neighbours’ offerings. As most of their standards of housekeeping and interior decoration are far higher than mine, I happily covet their cast offs, and so far this week I’ve gained a very nice large basket but was beaten to a useful little table by a lady who had sensibly come trailing a trolley to carry off her spoils.

There is a strange sense of pride at having one’s ex-possessions vanish, though I remain puzzled by the person who wanted one of a pair of mirrored cabinet doors, attractively mottled round the edges. Sadly the Ikea lampshade was not so successful on the rehoming front and sat like a rejected bridesmaid outside the gate until the garbage truck arrived.

This has been the week of ‘Back to School’ information nights. The Oscar for most entertaining evening goes to the primary school one – though in fairness the standard of this year’s entries was not particularly high. The highlight of the evening was a question about, and subsequent discussion of, the sex education programme for the 11 and 12 year olds. No wonder the school get experts in to do the programme as based on the level of hysterical giggles from the parents, talking about sex in front of Yr 6 must be a toe-curling ordeal. The mirth rose to a crescendo when one of the teachers declared she wasn’t going to go into the ‘ins and outs’ of sex education which raised the whole thing to the level of ‘as the actress said to the bishop’ style jokes. A heated discussion about girls’ uniform was needed to get the evening back on a suitably serious track.

The prize this week for reducing me to speechless choking noises goes to Drama Queen No.2, who sent me a text mid afternoon that read, “Having a drink with Izzy, may be late back.” My first reaction was what it is to be a 13 year old chip off the paternal block. However to stall a flood of outraged emails from my close relatives regarding teenagers imbibing alcohol, I should clarify the drink in question was an innocuous milk shake.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Frangipani Frenzy

At this time of year the backyards of Mosman are filled with frangipanis, those glorious tropical looking bushes and trees with blossoms and a perfume that immediately transport me to a topical island, think Paul Gauguin and his pictures of dusky maidens with frangipanis tucked behind their ears.

I love frangipani blossoms and find myself collecting fallen ones from the pavements to float in bowls around the house. Elle Decoration, eat your heart out, I can highly recommend floating frangipanis juxtaposed against piles of unsorted washing and a sleeping dog having an illicit nap on the sofa, as a good look for a house.

However my attraction towards frangipanis is tinged with a certain amount of bitterness. I have had two attempts at establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with a frangipani – gave it room to grow, love and nourishment – though admittedly the latter was of the remains of cold cups of tea and coffee variety and the result has been Catriona Nil, Frangipanis 2 in terms of a battle to the death.

Frangipanis are not my only failure. The mini orchid I bought at Christmas in an attempt to create the air of an expensive resort hotel within the family bathroom, was looking decidedly sad by New Year and is now an interesting stick with a pair of sickly looking leaves attached.

One of the downsides of frangipanis aside from their strange fragility under my tender care, is that when not in leaf and bloom, they revert to looking like a bunch of dead fingers protruding from the earth, and protruding is a good word in this context as these are tuber, sausage like fingers, not delicate, stick like digits.

I am, however, not one to shirk from the challenge and acting on the assumption of third time lucky, I have bought myself a beautiful pink frangipani in a large pot. Keen to maintain its interest in life I lent it to a friend for her leaving party on Day 1. An active social life obviously agrees with the thing as a month later it is still blooming away and is even producing new blossoms. Percy Thrower, and the current BBC Radio 4 team, move over there’s a new contender in the running for ‘Gardeners’ Question Time.’

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day - Is that a card I see before me?

Hurray, we are the other side of that romantic watershed of Valentine’s Day. Judging by the number of sheepish looking men I met at 6.30 a.m. on the morning of the 14th, who were clutching red roses outside the local flower shop, there were a fair number of people (predominantly male) who were caught unaware by the fact that Valentine’s Day fell on a Monday. My own hopes were not high as I overheard Husband asking the Drama Queens what date Valentine’s Day was? I had to restrain myself from shrieking “It’s not a moveable feast”. To be fair we had agreed a no present pact, but I did fear he might have interpreted this as a ‘get out of jail free’ card, rather than a chance to display romantic fervour untainted by material excess. Fortunately for the marital relationship, he came through with the goods by taking me out for a glass of pink champagne which ticked romantic and entertaining boxes.

I think my attitude to Valentine’s Day is a product of my teenage years where early February was dominated by twin concerns, a) how to find a suitably romantic, sensitive but not soppy, card to send to whatever benighted Glaswegian teenager my fancy had lit upon – and the stress of disguising handwriting as the horror of being discovered would have been too much to bear, and b) worry about whether I was ever going to be a recipient of one of these anonymous offerings – just for the record I do have to hold up my hand to receiving one card. The really sad fact is I am pretty sure it came from my mother and the cleaning lady acting in concerned concert.

I was flummoxed when we moved to America where the concept of sending just one Valentine is completely alien – as for anonymous longings forget it, you sign your name with pride. I discovered all three of the Drama Queens, who were in primary school at that point, were required to produce a Valentine’s card for every member of the class. Lovely for producing mass love ins, less good for creating a sense of anticipation around the whole event. Any emotional highs experienced I think would probably be down to the sugar consumed as the result of the candy attached to each card rather than flutterings of unrequited love.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Things that go 'bump' or blow a bottom trumpet in the night

I have been staggering around a bit this morning due to a combination of factors.

1. Husband is away but has considerately left his alarm set at 4.25a.m. which is the ungodly hour he set off for the airport yesterday. How I chortled when it went off this morning as well, there being a finite number of occasions that I like a pre-dawn siren call.

2. As his position in the bed was vacant overnight there were a number of skirmishes during the early hours of the morning as various members of the Drama Queen fraternity circled the bed jostling for pole position.

3. As the finishing touch to the night, Drama Queen No.3’s favourite Christmas present, the remote controlled fart machine decided to malfunction. The end result of which was an eruption of loud and prolonged flatulence that echoed through the house. I woke to the rumble of a ‘bottom trumpet’ as they are known in our house, and sat bolt upright convinced I was about to face a burglar in the last stages of a gastric attack.

Given these factors it would be a mistake to say that fair dawned the morning in the Ling household, but I did roll out of the disputed territory, formerly known as the marital bed, and took the dog for a walk down to the beach before the rest of the house woke.

The beach in the early morning always puts me if not in a good mood, at least in a relatively better humour. Today’s top smile raiser was a man careering down the very steep hill on his bicycle, trailing his surfboard, or more likely paddleboard behind him by dint of a dinky set of wheels he had attached to the end of it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sting and the stomach muscles

It’s almost 5p.m. in Sydney and the temperature is 42oC /108oF, to say we are all hot and sweaty is putting it mildly. Fortunately I don’t tend to greet many people in Sydney with a kiss as today is the type of day where you would stick to anyone you attempted to embrace.

Last night, when blissfully the temperature dropped a bit we went to see Sting in concert with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The concert was held on the Opera House forecourt and the whole evening was absolutely magical. Even as a quasi local there is something uplifting about sitting in iconic surroundings. We were perched on the Opera House steps with a breeze blowing across the Botanic Gardens and Farm Cove, whilst the back drop to the stage was the Sydney city skyline together with the ferries coming in and out of Circular Quay. I loved the combination of Sting and the orchestra and the bats spiralling up into the dusk overhead were the finishing touch that even the best stage manager would be hard put to beat.

The other big treat yesterday was going for an ultrasound. Sadly I have now reached the age where the scan was a by product of having a bad back rather than pregnancy. The aim of the ultrasound was to discover the state of my stomach muscles and I approached the whole thing with some trepidation, having a horrible feeling they might not be able to find any sign of a muscle at all in my stomach region.

However how proud am I? Not only could they identify various muscles but I could also make them twitch a bit on screen. The technician pointed out the layers of muscles and skin, but very kindly skipped the layer that I suspect could only be described as flab.

I was tempted to ask if I could have a photo of the ultrasound to stick on the fridge as proof positive that evidence of working stomach muscles had been found.

My good mood post ultrasound was heightened by finding a couple of liquorice allsorts I had forgotten about at the bottom of my handbag. In my experience, there is nothing more delicious than this kind of unexpected bonus. I read an article recently that claimed that the younger generation didn’t like the taste of liquorice allsorts, I can’t believe this is true, but if it is, it is definitely one of those dividing generation lines.

Yesterday was actually red letter day on the dividing generation line all round ,in that I finally mastered predictive texting. The resident teenagers, to whom predictive texting is second nature, found it inconceivable that anyone could still resort to typing out messages painful letter by letter. Having suddenly cracked the predicting nut, I am now set to bore all my friends with novel length texts.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Scurvy, strippers and student days

I was fiddling with the car radio this morning, trying to find a station that wasn’t airing dubious adverts loaded with double entendre aimed at men with problems in the bedroom department. I hit upon a discussion about two chaps whom the radio presenter knew who amazingly in this day and age had managed to go down with scurvy. They had achieved this minor medical miracle by dint of living off a solid diet of sausages encased in white bread sandwiches. I didn’t hear the full story but I did gather part of it was they had moved into a flat together with funds that only stretched to a barbeque, hence the sausages,and a TV.

February/March is the start of the University year in Australia and I am beginning to take more interest in the whole thing given we are galloping towards the first of the Drama Queens reaching the end of her school career. If we were still in the UK or indeed in the US this would generally mean the signal to move out of the parental home to embark on student life. This is sadly not the case in Sydney where the majority of students live at home. Indeed the Australian young often live at home until they marry, a down under version of the Italian ‘bamboccioni’ phenomenon.

Sadly for the Drama Queens, I am giving notice now that we are not expecting them to be living at home as students. Aside for reasons connected with parental sanity, I think student years offer such a fabulous chance to live away from home whilst still being in a semi protected environment.

From a personal perspective my three years at university, approximately 500 km from home, were the most formative years of my life. Being a student at home or away is a life enriching privilege but if I had been living at home, no matter how tolerant my parents, I might have missed out on a number of character forming episodes, including the following:

Sitting in friends’ rooms until the early hours of the morning. If ‘Echo and the Bunnymen’ rings a bell you were probably of that era. Likewise if Chris De Burgh’s ‘Patricia the Stripper’ makes the hair on your arms stand up, then you too were probably hanging out on Y staircase, Angel Court during 1983.

Drinking gin mixed with water and sugar because the tonic had run out.

Discovering exotic foods such as taramasalata and subsequently eating it with brown bread every day for lunch for a term – if you came from Glasgow in the 1980s, you too might have classed tarama as exotic. Come to think of it I probably only just avoided scurvy – the lemon I squeezed on it probably headed it off.

Making friends with people with names such as Benedict and Oliver that would given rise to sniggers in Glasgow where people were called manly names such as Cameron, Forbes or James.

Having breakfast in hall and realising those with a high standard of personal grooming stood out as a rarity at 7.30a.m. and that it was totally socially acceptable to appear bleary eyed and in an unbrushed state for bacon and toast.

Being thrown in at the deep end, knowing no one and then discovering this gave boundless opportunity for reinvention and fresh starts without the dragging gormlessness of school persona.

Eating raw lentils as the packet was the only thing left in the communal store cupboard and we were too lazy to cook them – this last point is probably a classic definition of a student.

Most importantly, making the most fabulous friends, who are still my closest friends today. I rarely see them, but they, lucky people, are still the ones I ring at 2 a.m. their time, with the immortal words fitting most emotional occasions, good and bad, “You won’t believe what’s happened to me.”

Hot nights in Sydney

It’s almost 10 p.m. and the temperature in Sydney is 29.7 oC, which is about 86 oF – or more accurately no matter how you translate it, sweat drippingly hot. The ceiling fans are whirring round but it feels as if they are just shifting super heated air from one side of the room to the other. It is nights like this that I long for that non-environmental luxury, air conditioning. I also reflect on the fact that we at least live near the ocean and thus get a bit of a breeze. I would say I shudder to think how hot it must be in Sydney’s Western Suburbs but firstly shudder is a cold weather word and secondly, if I attempted to try and shake, shudder or indeed make any kind of vigorous movement I feel I would scatter damp like a Labrador emerging from the sea.

As I type I am listening to the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour book adaptation which this week is M M Kaye’s ‘Far Pavilions’. I discovered M. M Kaye as a teenager and loved both ‘Far Pavilions’ and “Shadows of the Moon’ her two epic romances set in India both with a ‘Gone with the Wind ‘ type grandeur. Actually thinking about it the radio adaptation must go on for weeks as it is hardly a quick read. I cannot imagine how the women of the Raj coped with the heat in India, unsuitably dressed as they were in layers of petticoats and fabric. Just thinking of a pith helmet makes me feel faint and I’m not even standing in the sun in one.

Should also be counting my blessings I am not in Adelaide, Melbourne or Canberra all of which are even hotter than Sydney at present, let alone Far North Queensland where they are battening down the hatches in anticipation of a cyclone.