Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal Wedding Reptile

Sydney has apparently had its wettest start to autumn for 20 years – I can feel my Northern hemisphere brain grappling with when exactly does Sydney autumn start? It certainly feels autumnal in the sense of being wet, grey and uninspiring, with the imported London plane tree outside the front gate dropping sodden leaves.

My mind is not actually on the weather at the moment as I am completely distracted by the fact that I seem to be turning into ‘Reptile Woman’. Post beach holiday and surfing exploits (note how I dropped that last bit in), I have developed the most bizarre rash all over my lower legs. Scaly lumps and bumps is the best way of describing it and I am driven mad by the itch. A helpful friend suggested it might be sea lice – just the desirable kind of parasite every female wants, however as it is now over a week since I was last in the sea, I have discounted this diagnosis. I am reluctant to rock up at my doctor’s surgery in the grip of galloping reptile outbreak, but as my elbows are beginning to show worrying tendencies on the lumpy, bumpy, itchy front I may be forced into action before my whole body is covered. The one silver lining of the rain is that mercifully there is little incentive to bare my limbs in public as suffice to say I don’t recall any icons of female beauty called “Lizard Lady” or “Goanna Girl”.

After a relatively slow start, Royal Wedding fervour has suddenly swept Australia. In a case of ideal timing, the actual ceremony will take place at 8pm Sydney time this evening which strikes me as a perfect end to the week. I will be glued to the television trying not to itch and eyeing Kate Middleton’s perfect, non- reptilian skin with ill concealed envy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Surfing with the snails

Sydney wet and cold and consequently I am feeling aggrieved, in that if I had wanted to spend my days dressed in wellies and raincoat I would have stayed put in the UK. However I should count my blessings as we have just got back from a week’s holiday in a beach house that we rented with friends from the UK. In my experience joint family beach holidays work wonderfully well when you get the weather, on the flip side the thought of a week trapped in a strange house in the pouring rain with a group of teenagers makes me feel physically weak there after all being a finite number of times you can play ‘Sardines’ or “Murder in the Dark’ before the murdering starts to happen for real. The Gods were smiling on this particular occasion and we had a fabulous time, with the highlight of the week being surfing lessons for everyone. I would love to say that I stood up on the board, but in the interests of truth I would have to say the most I achieved was a crouch, unlike the Drama Queens who sickeningly took to the whole thing in minutes and were cruising into the beach in true beach babe style – but maybe there’s an opening for a ‘Crouching Tiger Mother’ stance in the litanies of surfing style, vanity ensures no photos are going to be published of this one however.

I have just had one of those profoundly unsatisfactory showers where if you live in a house like ours with what could be kindly called eccentric plumbing, the parental shower is the last place hot water gets to, once it has meandered its way past the Drama Queens’ bathroom where naturally most of it is siphoned off, the laundry and the kitchen tap. Should anyone use the hot water tap in any of those places my shower immediately goes stone cold and not being a manly type who revels in bracing showers, I go ballistic. Conversations with plumbers on the topic have involved lots of teeth sucking on their part and blanching on mine when they name their solution and a figure to go with it and I revert back to the shout method of restarting the water. To add insult to injury on the shower front as I hopped around under the icy blast I managed to drop a full bottle of shampoo on my big toe – thus ensuring I will almost certainly develop yet another old lady ailment and be condemned to carpet slippers for the rest of the week.

Cold showers aside my latest passion is snails. I have just read ‘The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating’ by Elisabeth Tova Bailey which is a gem of a book. The author who was bed bound, was given a pot plant plus accompanying snail by one of her visitors, which I suppose beats the conventional grapes and chocolates on the hospital present giving front. Increasingly fascinated by the snail that was sharing her hospital space, Bailey began researching the species and details her observations and findings through the book. I like to think I have fairly eclectic tastes in reading material but non-fiction snail observations wouldn’t have been top of my list that just goes to show that boundaries are there to be pushed. I read the book as part of the book group that our fabulous local bookshop Pages & Pages runs. In a stroke of genius they had imported a snail expert from Queensland to talk to the group and he managed to have his predominantly female audience completely spellbound for a good half hour, particularly when he got to the mating habits of snails which predictably involve lashings of slime or as it is more correctly known amongst us snail experts, mucus. As a result of all this snail exposure I am on the brink of becoming a snail bore – did you know there are over 2,000 varieties of Australian land based snails? Or that there is a snail variant called a semi-slug that resembles a snail that has run out of money on a home renovation project and has had to settle for a home that is blatantly inadequate for the task.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What's lurking at your bedside?

I have this theory that a quick snoop round the reading material on people’s bedside tables will give you a pretty good insight into their personality, though do exercise a bit of caution on this – anyone trying to psychoanalyse Husband might baulk at a pile of Yachting Monthly next to the American Girl ‘Feelings Book’ and a battered copy of something entitled ‘Mr Tick the Teacher’. Rather than evidence of a split personality it merely indicates that his side of the bed is regarded as a legitimate resting place by his daughters.

I am a vain reader in that I attempt to stack the bookshelves in public view with worthy tomes and to have my friends consider that Proust rather than Picoult is my preferred choice but my bedside table tells the honest truth. I have just grabbed the books stacked there and here’s the list – for I must also confess I am a serial reader by which I mean I generally have a number of books on the go at once, rather than implying a devotion to the ‘to be continued later’ variety of literature.

1. ‘Red Dust Road” by Jackie Kay, a Scottish poet and author who writes about growing up in Glasgow as a black child adopted by fabulously alternative white parents and her search for her Scottish birth mother and her African father and family. This was one of those books that I enjoyed so much I didn’t want it to end. I particularly loved her descriptions of her adopted mother, a woman whose joie de vivre comes across very strongly.

2. “The Little White Horse” by Elizabeth Goudge, I missed out on reading this one as a child and have kept coming across it in other people’s lists of their favourite books, so bought it for Drama Queen 3 who has now passed it on to me with strict instructions to read it and I have to say I am quite enjoying a magical world that doesn’t involve people keen to eat each other – yet.

3. T.S. Eliot Selected Poetry – there’s always got to be one aspirational book in the pile and I am slowly working up to it. Have just bought myself the most marvellous bit of stationery, a pad where I am supposed to list the habits I want to break or more positively encourage, and then give myself ticks for each day – ho ho. Perhaps I could add reading a poem a day to the list. The nasty cynical side of me thinks that most likely the list and TS Eliot will still be gathering dust next month.

4. ‘Au Revoir’ by Mary Moody – subtitled ‘Running Away from Home at Fifty’ which is about someone who abandons husband and family to live in France for six months – this was given to me by a friend, am slightly concerned that there may be a hidden message here, and am waiting for a wet afternoon when I am feeling particularly annoyed with nearest and dearest to start it.

5. I’ve just spent all afternoon lying on the couch reading my current favourite, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Teenagers”. This was also given to me by a friend and there is definitely a message there. It’s an absolutely gripping read (if like me, you are in the era of dancing the teenage tightrope) by New Zealand author and clinical psychologist, Nigel Latta. If 10 years ago you had a well -thumbed copy of ‘Toddler Taming’ by your bed, then this is one for you. Personally I always find it is a great relief to discover you are merely one of a crowd wrestling with crowd control issues. I’m adding ‘Punctuation’ to my good habits/bad habits list, as one of his mantras is that mothers in particular are bad at applying the full stop when talking to their teens. As I read I can hear myself doing it, moving from a comment on state of bedroom to a full on rant about general untidiness, failure to remove clothing from stairs, nail clippers going missing, empty mugs in rooms, homework on floor, world war three, failure of dog and/or any member of the family to behave in a rational way and so on. In impolite company it would be called nagging, and his advice is, don’t do it. Don’t be tempted to insert commas in your speech, if it’s a choice between a full stop and a comma go for the full stop - and STOP.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spell Check

On principle I don’t do my children’s homework for a number of good reasons including the fact I am by nature indolent. I also feel that if the Drama Queens’ teachers wanted to know if I could multiply fractions in my head then they would ask me in person rather than sending questions home with children for me to do whilst I am simultaneously cooking supper, giving the dog its antibiotics and answering the phone to cold callers.

As with all good principles in our family like equitable distribution of chores, dog walking by children and family bonding housecleaning sessions, there is always space for adjustment, and last week I found myself caught up in a spelling crisis. The task was to find examples of the list words in either a newspaper or magazine and then paste them into the homework book. No problem there, great creative exercise presumably designed to encourage students to think about context. Bad news however if like Drama Queen No. 3 your list includes in no particular order, epiglottis, cardiothoracic, stalactite, stalagmite, onomatopoeia, guacamole and Mademoiselle, should this be the case I can tell you that you are in severe danger of getting a ‘homework incomplete’ notice.

It was of course, as with all good homework crises, so late that every shop had shut, thus effectively ruling out the option to go and purchase a climbing type publication that might have knocked off the geological features. I knew we should have kept the subscription to National Geographic going to deal with precisely this kind of educational emergency.

Forced to rely on the media resources of the household conveniently filed in the paper recycling bin, I suggested she search the medical job advertisements in the Sydney Morning Herald but sadly no one was advertising for a cardiothoracic surgeon with a sideline in exploration of the epiglottis. The Woman’s Weekly gets a medal for coming to the rescue with ‘guacamole’ – never have I been so happy to see a naked avocado. I did have the bright idea of searching the dodgy, adult only adverts at the back of our local paper to see if I could source a Mademoiselle – I am sure there must be someone in a saucy French maid’s outfit advertising her wares but sadly, no, though there were an number of interesting words, not to mention accompanying photos, that might have caused a sensation had she stuck them into her homework book.

As for onomatopoeia, when was the last time you said the word, let alone saw it written in a paper or magazine? The dictionary that I consulted to check I had got the spelling right (proof positive that I obviously didn’t do my spelling homework diligently enough) suggests “Cuckoo” as an example of an onomatopoeic word and I think that might be my last word on the subject of this particular spelling task.