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 …….