Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to amaze your guests

The Easter holidays are approaching which is fabulous news as we are all beginning to feel a bit jaded. The excitement of the new school year has worn off and the prospect of a couple of weeks off without the daily monotony of packed lunches and bus timetables seems alluring.

We have friends from the UK arriving next week and whilst this is a good thing it is also inducing a state of mild hysteria. When I listen to the description of the Room of Hidden Things in Harry Potter I am immediately struck by the strong resemblance to our guest bedroom that acts as both a general dumping ground and teenage changing room. Standing at the door, and I am afraid it is a bit of a ‘standing room only’ exercise, the objects that catch my eye include in no particular order, a large rolled up carpet destined for the tip, a knee high straw pelican, a hockey stick, a monopoly game in progress, a school hat minus hat ribbon, at least seven pairs of shoes, a basket containing a highly ambitious, and thus almost immediately abandoned sewing project, an assortment of ski helmets and a wooden Chinese highchair that Husband once attempted to carry back hand luggage from Beijing. All this debris is before you get to the piles of books everywhere. I am a firm believer in giving guests a decent selection of books but as there is already an overflowing large ceiling height bookcase in the room I am not sure there is any need to have leaning Tower of Pisa type piles of books on every surface. Somehow I feel having to lie rigid and motionless within the bed for fear of triggering a book avalanche is not conducive to a great guest experience.

Hopefully this lot of guests will be spared the ultimate horror that befell a work colleague of Husband’s who stayed with us in New York and who was subjected to a night filled with banging and crashing whilst we tried to recapture an escaped hamster. I don’t think I actually crawled round his room, but I did make hamster tempting noises outside the door which was probably enough to have him mentally cataloguing the bedroom furniture for its barricading potential.

Looking on the bright side provided the mucking out of room goes well and our guests survive the rigours of the guest bedroom at least they have what could be termed a novelty garden to gaze at. Owing to the recent copious amounts of rain the lawn has gone on a crazed growth spurt and inspired by goodness knows what evil gene, can’t they just download unsuitable internet material for God’s sake, Drama Queen No. 3 and friend took shears to the back garden to create a maze. To say the result looks extraordinary is putting it mildly and I fear the photo doesn’t do it justice, but you know what, the most important thing is that the sun is shining and after all what’s the saying about making hay?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Open House for slugs

Glorious sunny autumn day of the kind that Sydney does so well, with everything looking amazingly green against the blue sky, thanks to the huge amounts of rain we had last week.

The really good news is that the slugs that were making slow and steady inroads into the house during the constant deluge seem to have lost the will to occupy the new territory and have now retreated back into the garden to draw silvery graffiti trails all over the paving. I am puzzled why wet and slimey slugs would want to get out of the rain in order to hover by my sofas, but can only presume they were preparing for a slugfest! Personally I would have thought a slug would have a preference for a wet and dripping garden as a home environment, but obviously not.

Having said that our house, like many in Sydney, does suffer dreadfully from damp, so perhaps it feels like home from home for slugs. Now that the sun is out I’ve thrown open all the doors, windows and wardrobe doors in the hope of getting enough air circulating to avoid whiskery shoes and white spotted clothes.

There is also the thought at the back of my mind that perhaps I am the slug attraction rather than the house, as slime trails seem to have been a recurring theme to my home ownership. My first house in London was in Maze Hill near Greenwich, a location that sounds much more picturesque than it actually was, just down the road from the gasworks would be a more accurate description. It had a small kitchen backing onto the garden and I did on a number of early morning occasions stand on a slug in my bare feet, giving a whole new meaning to ‘Bubble and Squeak’ though in my case it was more ‘Bubble and Shriek’ as slug flesh squirmed between my toes.

As an antidote to the slug yuck factor, my red flowering gum is out and I think it is completely stunning. In the breaks between torrential downpours it looked absolutely amazing with droplets quivering from every stamen.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The politicians and the power of advertising

It’s been a wet, wet weekend in Sydney, a sloshing your way through puddles kind of weekend with sport cancelled and platoons of worms trying to make their way inside the house. The dog is such a coward he can’t quite decide how to handle the wriggling intruders so resorts to making little runs at them with much woofing.

Next big event on the horizon in Sydney is the New South Wales state election on Saturday. The Labour party that is currently in power is so deeply unpopular, not to mention a byword for sleeze, that the opposition party leaders appear to be quite sensibly sitting quietly and saying nothing as barring a miracle on the Lazarus type scale, their victory is assured.

I am fairly unmoved by both parties, and am very tempted to vote for the nudist candidate. He caused a sensation at the meeting of candidates to decide position on the ballot paper when he decided to declare himself in the strongest possible way by casting off his dressing gown and bow tie. I was listening to reports on the radio and could hear him protesting, “It’s all right, I’ve got a G string” as he was evicted from the meeting.

Having said neither of the two main parties has grabbed my attention; I do have to say I am a sucker for good advertising. I am currently in thrall to a moisturiser that bills itself as “Wake Up Wonder” guaranteed to do, well wonders I presume, for tried looking and never let it be said out loud, ageing skin. Even though in my rational moments I do realise that it is not only the NSW Labour party that would need a Lazarus type miracle here, I have been slapping it on with enthusiasm, and when I stand well back and squint, I definitely look more startled than tired.

The other bit of power of suggestion that I love is the meat truck that delivers the meat to our fabulous local butcher Penny’s of Mosman, every morning. The meat company, based in the NSW inland town of Cowra is called Breakout River Meats and the truck is emblazoned with a huge image of two cowboys racing down a river – www.breakoutriver.com.au for those that want to check out the picture. For some reason the picture of wholesome manhood doing healthy outdoor things always makes me smile and buy more sausages. In contrast the mental image of a former NSW Labour Minister dancing in his underpants at a party ensures that my vote is unlikely to go his way.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Driving Miss Daisy to drink

I’ve got a theory that parenting is filled with things that no one tells you about until it is too late. A classic example of the genre is that breast feeding can be fraught with a mind numbing agony that will induce you to throw dignity to the winds and start stuffing cold cabbage leaves down your already hideously unattractive maternity bra.

Though my breast feeding days are long gone, I have hit upon another widely unacknowledged parental fact; never mind the alcohol, smoking, excess weight and stress we are all supposed to be avoiding as adults in our forties, the single activity almost guaranteed to raise your blood pressure and shorten your life, is teaching your first born to drive.

I use the word ‘teaching’ loosely, as one key characteristic of the average 16 year old climbing behind the wheel of the family car is an attitude of, “Well, how hard can this be?” And you can see their point from a technology perspective, given the fact their parents can barely master an i-phone. The teenage assumption is that this driving lark must be a piece of cake compared to my offsprings’ norm of simultaneously texting, talking, typing, watching TV and doing homework.

In normal life I am a fairly exuberant type, prone to arm waving, loud exclamations and impromptu gestures, all characteristics that make me wildly unsuitable as a supervising driver. Such however is the level of terror associated with being strapped into my own car as a passenger that I barely utter a whimper. The most frequently heard instruction is in fact from Drama Queen No.1 who with some irritation orders me to let go of the door that I tend to grasp with both hands. The whole outing is also conducted to the steady beat of my right foot stamping to the floor with the rhythm of a death defying tango

The NSW Road Traffic Authority sets 16 year olds loose with instructions to notch up 120 hours of quality driving time before they can sit their tests at 17. The bulk of these hours inevitably fall to their parents. I don’t know about you but 120 hours strikes me as an awfully long time for your life to flash before your eyes at regular intervals. The RTA does however helpfully issue some advice to novice supervisors, including the suggestion that we invest in an extra rear view mirror, presumably to better observe the frothing faces and gesticulations of drivers behind. I have to say that will be all good and well when we get to the giddy heights of changing lanes but actually what I need at the moment is a sure fire method of braking other than shouting ‘STOP’ at the top of my voice and lunging for the handbrake.

In DQ 1’s defence I have to say she has so far managed to control any manic urges and is a careful and consistent driver and I am willing to admit that in fact the biggest problem is my vivid imagination and general nervous disposition.

Drink driving is however acquiring a new meaning in our household, as I generally require a large glass pressed into my hand to revive me as I totter back in after a bit of roundabout practice and the thought of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is quite enough to make long for the quiet serenity of the cabbage leaf days.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A bridge too far?

I came across a filler item on the Yahoo main page a couple of days ago, the banner headline for which proclaimed, that couples who met on bridges were more likely to stay together. Needless to say my first reaction was a loud snort, after all take a good look round your friends plus nearest and dearest, how many of them met on a bridge? I think sitting next to someone on an aeroplane who later became her husband, is the closest my inner circle gets to a bridging moment.

I went into the article as I was curious how many people they had actually asked to get even one who had met a partner on a bridge – I can imagine that if you did a random sample on the street you’d get a pretty dim response, especially once you had weeded out the over 60’s who might be thinking of bridge in a completely different context as in, “Oh yes, I met my fourth husband at the Bridge Club”. It turned out the base study showed that people rated others as more attractive when they met on a bridge over rushing water – the article doesn’t actually state what other scenarios they tested this against and my nasty mind immediately flicked to some of the other possible geographic meeting places against which the tryst on a bridge would definitely win e.g., in a lift that has stopped between floors, down a coal mine, at the municipal rubbish dump, … I am sure you can continue the list.

The article entitled ‘7 dates that’ll create instant chemistry’ by Matt Schneiderman is actually about ways to nail your man (or woman) and to convert them from acquaintance to partner – and though somewhat wacky I can see the sense of some suggestions. Going on a hunt or mission together with a common purpose gets a tick though I would have to have been a bit careful on this one as Husband has an internal alarm that goes off if he is required to do more than 5 minutes in a woman’s clothes shop, so the hunt for the perfect black dress would be a non-starter.

Likewise the suggestion you do things in a crowd where you are thrown together as two people such as going to a group dining experience. Presumably the upside of this is that if things aren’t working out on your date at the communal table at the local Teppanyaki restaurant you can always listen to the conversations of others – again I recall a classic bonding moment during our first night in Sydney as young marrieds when the inebriated couple next to us in the pub started having a loud argument about what I presume was his upcoming vasectomy – the immortal lead in line from his female partner was, “Well if you want to have your goolies cut off, go ahead and do it.” Our eyes met wide-eyed in astonishment, this indeed was Australian life in the red and raw, Crocodile Dundee fashion, and we waited breathlessly for the woman to produce a suitable instrument to perform the operation.

The bridge comment came from the section where doing things that made you dizzy was seen as an inducement to stick together – presumably the fact that you are physically locked together in terror on the mountainside has something to do with it. I remain dubious on this one as early in our relationship Husband bought himself a two man Laser sailing dinghy and I was required to clamber into my pink and purple spotted wetsuit, in which I resembled the Creature from the Deep, and hang off the boat, whilst attached by a wire and harness to the mast. The entire experience undoubtedly had the desired effect of making me dizzy but I am not sure I could truthfully say that it created any emotion other than sheer terror – overwhelming passion was definitely not top of my list as I waded ashore.

I have however filed all the information at the back of my mind and should romance begin to flag, I will be emailing Husband with the suggestion that we go on a mass Treasure Hunt ending with a communal meal before climbing the Harbour Bridge.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Disgruntled in Sydney

Disgruntled is such a fabulously descriptive word – it conveys a stomp, and a sulk, with black clouds looming on the brow. This morning’s gruntle, as it were, has been brought on by the pool machinery throwing a wobbly in the small hours of the morning – it’s never a good feeling to wake up to the sound of running water, (unless one lives in a mill house of course). Lying in the dark I did have a go at trying to persuade myself it was refreshing dawn rain, or alternatively the gurgles and snorts of Drama Queen No.3, who has taken over her father’s side of the bed as he is overseas.

I should point out that whenever we have a middle of the night emergency in the house involving incidents such as
a) potential burglars ringing doorbell at 1 a.m.
b) smoke alarm located on a ceiling which requires ladder access malfunctioning and emitting high pitched beeps designed to wake household at irregular intervals
or c) Drama Queens vomitting in perfect synchronisation
the one common factor that links all these events is that you can guarantee Husband is off on his travels and I am left to deal with emergency.

Last night events ran par for the course as it swiftly became obvious that cascading water noise could not be dismissed as the patter of raindrops and I hauled myself up to investigate. I followed the sounds of splashing and gushing, accompanied by the intrepid dog, whom true to normal male form trailed discreetly behind me, just in case any kind of real danger lurked. I discovered the pool in the back garden was roiling and boiling in the manner of a modest, back garden, dipping spot about to produce its very own Loch Ness Monster.

There’s nothing like fumbling around in the pitch dark in the innards of a large bit of machinery that is giving the strong impression that it is about to explode, to put one in a good mood. Particularly when the rescue operation has to be conducted whilst wearing something that was once a perfectly respectable nightie but following a close encounter with my absent-minded clothes-washing regime has now shrunk to the equivalent of a baby doll negligee. In hindsight probably just as well it was pitch dark – it wouldn’t have improved my mood much to have the dog clasp a paw over his eyes at the sight of so much flesh quivering with fury.

To add insult to injury I couldn’t even resort to a restorative raid of the larder or drinks cabinet, as I was mid-fast for some routine blood tests this morning. The good news is having endured the blood letting, good humour has been resumed, aided by large cup of coffee and some vegemite toast with a couple of friends up at the local Italian emporium.