Saturday, December 29, 2012

Throw out the old New Year Resolutions - on with the new

Due to a combination of circumstances it looks a fair bet that I will be watching the fabulous Sydney midnight fireworks from Royal Prince Alfred Hospital where Drama Queen No. 1 is currently in residence – I am told the roof of the hospital has a great view but am not sure how many people it is going to be possible to smuggle in for the Ling alternative New Year party.

RPA as it is known, has become our home from home this year and I was wandering through the hallway first thing this morning – we always seem to be there at weekends when the hospital functions as a shadow of its normal vibrant bustling self and thought about New Year’s Resolutions or indeed New Year’s Aspirations which sounds a less threatening way of putting it and reflecting how shallow and self centred my normal ones are – (shallow – moi?), revolving as they normally do on an annual basis around loosing weight, not being such a slob on the housekeeping front, writing more, talking less etc.

So my 2013’s New Year Aspirations are going to be at the deeper end of the meaningful pool.

1.     To remember that life and love are the most important things in the world, everything else can be replaced.  It sounds trite but it’s easy to forget the importance of these two great truths until you have to stare down the hard stuff.
2.     To follow the passion in life – this applies less to the pursuit of unsuitable men, but more to the fact I feel we should treat life as a mango full of juice and aroma begging to have teeth sunk in, juice dripping down chin, rather than as a lemon from which to recoil with teeth on edge.
3.     Remember Drama Queen No. 2’s stress mantra which is “Will this be important in two year’s time?”  In actual fact it does often take two years for things to rise to the top of the ironing basket.
4.     Rather than eating and drinking less, to make time to ensure I am eating and drinking well with the friends and people I love. – though I might have to add in a small memo to self to drop the daily chocolate Freddo Frog that I have currently kidded myself is essential to my wellbeing.
5.     To celebrate whenever and whatever I can – so if you spot a small blondeish figure skipping round Mosman singing at the top of her voice – early in the morning or late in the evening– yes it’s likely to be me.

Happy New Year!

Dear, Deer, the ultimate radiator

You have to be British, or at the very least a child of a cold country, to appreciate the true beauty of a radiator.  To qualify for true radiator worship status it helps to have passed a childhood jostling for a perch on a school radiator despite their bottom unfriendly design with cast iron sharp ridges and the added thrill of the rumour that prolonged exposure was a surefire route to piles.  But any radiator was better than the chilly alternative, in my last year of school I was taught in what was in effect an unheated classroom, and I have memories of wearing every article of clothing I possessed to stay warm before the exasperated and presumably freezing English master gave up and invited us all round to his place, where we could study without succumbing to frostbite, whilst politely trying to ignore the dodgy poster of girl in tennis dress scratching her bottom that adorned his kitchen.

Likewise I remember my unheated bedroom at university.  Cambridge is possibly the coldest place in England, with a Siberian wind that crackles straight across the Fens.  Rather than getting undressed to go to bed, I doubled the layers, and clambered into my tracksuit as a last layer of insulation, hard to overestimate the attraction of this particular outfit, and attempted to build a type of nest with the bedclothes.  It is safe to say I would have killed for a radiator at that particular point in my life.

Sydney houses and flats quite often don’t do central heating, relying on the fact that winter is generally short and sweet by Northern Hemisphere standards, and where there is heating it tends be in the form of reverse cycle air conditioning or systems such as ours where hot air is puffed round the house and I do hear rumours of underfloor heating in newbuilds – quite enough to make my toes curl with delight, but in general radiators are pretty much an unknown concept aside from their wimpy cousins, the towel rails.

My Australian friends are thus somewhat perplexed by my latest fashion passion on the home décor front, though my more heat challenged Kiwi friends get the concept of marrying warmth with good looks.  The November 24 th/ 25 th edition of my favourite read – the Weekend FT, published the most fabulous article by Kate Watson-Smyth entitled “The Heat of the Moment”, highlighting some of the modern takes on the traditional radiator.

I love it when I see something clever and utilitarian that represents a completely new approach to a standard boring bit of life and these fabulous radiators shaped like paperclips, paper dolls or in the piece de resistance, a deer, were enough to bring me out in a heat induced hot flush.  I just love the deer created by Gewoon Guus of the Netherlands, and defy anyone not to look at it and smile.  I now have my heart set on buying a herd of them to place in the hallway of the baronial Scottish mansion that I am obviously going to require in order to do my stunning new radiators justice.  Given the price tag, Husband is less keen on the herd of heat radiating deer idea – not to mention the baronial mansion purchase, but then when it comes to radiator fashion he’s got no eye for deer – or no eye deer in possibly the worst pun ever – 2013 can only raise the tone.

Happy New Year and may all your celebrations be warm ones.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It must be Christmas - the Agapanthus is out

Getting back on a blog is a bit like getting back on a bicycle I’ve decided – you’ve got to just tell yourself it’ll all come back and push off – though I do have a very clear memory of hurtling down a hill on a friend’s borrowed bike years ago and thinking “OOPS” in the best cartoon character manner.

I stopped writing the blog in May because one of the Drama Queens became seriously ill. At first there was no room for anything trivial in my life and then as things calmed down a bit I realised it was her story, not mine, but I found it impossible to write as if nothing was happening in my life. Fortunately we are now emerging from what has been a challenging year – and that’s been polite and restrained in my assessment of it, and there is a definite sense of everyone picking up their lives again, so I feel it’s time to mount the bike, perhaps not close my eyes, but certainly push off down the hill and see where it takes me again.

There are certain signs that that the Australian summer season has kicked in.

1. The Geese getting fat is obviously a traditional sign of Christmas and in the spirit of things I am swelling in a Magic Pudding type manner owing to the amount of chocolates floating around the house.
2. Sydney is a swag of blue as all the Agapanthus flowers are out, although they are originally native to South Africa, they line the streets here and are such a joyous counterpoint to all the festive green and red.

3. The lawn had suddenly sprouted large pits and holes overnight where the deranged dog has attempted to dig up the crickets that come out at this time of year.
4. This ritual rearrangement of the lawn leads directly to the annual inclusion of a stuffed and mounted dog on Husband’s Christmas wishlist.
5. One of the most fabulous things to do in Sydney in January and February is to go to the Outdoor Cinema in the Botanic Gardens and yet again I have managed to miss getting the tickets I wanted. It is a totally magical experience as the screen rises up against the back drop of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Tickets went on sale at 9am on December 13th and in what has become a annual event – I went online at 9.05a.m. and discovered that I was too late and far from the anticipated treat of gazing at Hugh Jackman in ‘Les Miserables’, the only thing left I fancied was ‘The Sweeney’. However actually the whole thing is such fun with pre film drinks and food in one of the most spectacular settings in the world plus delicious ice creams to clasp as the music starts up, that really the film isn’t that important – plus there is the added bonus that now the Botanic Gardens have persuaded the huge colony of fruit bats that dominated the gardens to move on, one’s chances of being shat on by a bat mid film, have decreased significantly.
6. Wishlists have mysteriously appeared on the fridge – including one for the dog who as mentioned will be lucky to survive the festive season intact. The unfortunate downside of these lists is everyone in the family seems to seize upon the easiest object resulting in the lucky DQ who is about to receive 2 identical tea strainers – a girl can never have enough is what I say. (Though in an aside here I should point out I have just been informed by DQ no.2 that she knows of 3 separate people who are giving me identical family organiser calendars – an unsubtle theme going on here I feel.)
7. The Christmas tree – or what passes for a Christmas tree in Sydney is looking shaky in terms of lasting to the actual day. Our first year here we travelled miles to purchase an “American style” tree, hotly and bear in mind how hot it can get at this point of the year, pursuing an unrealistic dream of a fabulous spruce or Norwegian fir that would recreate our New York State Christmas experience – ho ho ho are the only appropriate words to mutter as we discovered that American style translates into an unfortunate native conifer hacked into a rough triangle.
8. It is at this point in the festive season too that it dawns upon me that one of the very few downsides of Christmas on the beach is the realisation that this is going to entail me donning suitable beach wear on Christmas morning and I have a suspicion that last year’s miracle hold swimsuit might have in a display of fellow feeling, succumbed to middle aged sag.
9. I also realise how much I love the Aussie Christmas season, it’s hard to be too uptight when the sun is shining, the back of the house is opened up to the breeze and the hammock is up in the garden. Plus one of the great benefits of the climate is the opportunity to mix hot and cold traditions so we’ll be having oysters, tuna tartare, prawns, turkey, roast potatoes and a number of salads in a glorious mix of cultures.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Rites of Spring, Swimming Rodents?

It is September 1st and the official first day of Spring in Australia and it is the most glorious day. Over the last week Spring has suddenly sprung in Sydney in a wave of warmth and fragrance as all the jasmine and creepers come out and the imported trees sprout green overnight. The days are perfect with glittering blue skies and temperatures up into the twenties – I am talking degrees centigrade here rather than the more nippy 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

The warmth and sunshine feel like a reward after what has been for Sydney a cold winter. Husband ordered a tonne of wood in June, which had to be stacked round the carport giving the front of the house a ‘Little House in the Big Woods’ type feel, somewhat out of place in suburban Mosman. The resident Drama Queen boyfriend goggled a bit when he arrived for a spot of teenage romance to discover that he was expected to participate in a manly ‘How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?’ stacking contest with Husband and swiftly claimed a bad back in order to slink into the warmth and female company. Our wood burning stove was a complete godsend over the winter, both in terms of heat and keeping the mini (and large male) arsonists in the household happy.

My pleasure and delight in the rites of spring were somewhat dashed by the discovery of a large, dead rat in the swimming pool. There are two types of rat in our neighbourhood – the black rat (imported + bad) and bush rats (native + good), but neither type has a reputation as a keen swimmer, though of course the Olympics have propelled many couch potato types into action. Given the bush rat is supposed to be shy and retiring and reluctant to enter suburban back yards, my money is on this being a black rat.

As I approached the waterlogged corpse I did wonder whether it was in fact a possum, but even given my limited rodent identification skills it was pretty clear which side of the rat dividing line this animal fell. Aside from anything else based on the nightly performances above our ceiling, the possum tribe that seem to have taken up residence are clearly gymnasts not swimmers and indeed are currently working up a gold medal winning gymnastic routine involving somersaulting, vaulting and bouncing.

I fished the rat out, mentally calculating days until the pool will be used for the first arctic dip of Spring and wondering about the incubation period for Weil’s disease.

In the meantime I think a coffee down at the beach, lapping up the sun is required to banish the memory of the floating rodent and restore my sense of equilibrim.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

'Age cannot wither her..', Nora Ephron and historical icons

I have been reading the tributes to Nora Ephron, the American journalist and screenwriter today, and laughed so much at the quotes from her book detailing her views on aging called “I Feel Bad About My Neck” that I immediately ordered it from my local bookshop.

I am feeling rather sensitive on the aging front since a friend confided that her daughter is about to study the 1980s as part of her Modern History course. Initial reaction was that friend’s non-existent hearing aid must be playing up again – age does that to one presumably, but when I quizzed the Drama Queens it turned out that by some malignant slight of hand, before I even reach the age of 50, I and my generation have metamorphosed into historical icons. The worst is that any claims not to remember the 80s would have to be on grounds of over indulgence in a variety of substances because as yet another shocked survivor of the decade pointed out, we were all old enough to vote during at least part of the 80s.

Close questioning of the Drama Queens reveals it’s not just the history curriculum that is putting the 80s under the spotlight. Apparently DQ2 has done a textiles project entitled “Fashion in the 80s” – an oxymoron if I ever heard one. I reacted rather badly to this announcement – mainly because I thought she said it was about “Fat people in the 80s” which seemed a rather crushing inditement of the effects of bad perms and pixie boots.

Whilst I have been stuck in this aging vortex – the geriatric groundhog day as it were, I have decided chrysanthemums are a very under rated flower, and yes I did have to consult a dictionary on the spelling, chrysanthemum not being a word one comes across very often.

I bought this fabulous bunch 10 days ago – and here they are still blooming beautifully, giving me complete pleasure and looking not a whit a day older than when I first put them in the vase – perhaps I should be adding a “Please God let me age like a white chrysanthemum” to my daily prayers, but then again a more worthy aspiration might be "Please God let me write with a tenth of Nora Ephron's fizz and humour" because if you think about it 'When Harry met Sally' came out in 1989 and people are still laughing about it today, and that rather than an unlined neck is true immortality.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Trapeze Artist?

Over the past month, Sydney has been characterised by intermittent foul weather – in fact I would have to say that in true Commonwealth style we joined in wholeheartedly in the spirit of the UK Jubilee, going so far as to mimic London’s grey skies and torrential downpours.

Lashing rain continued post Jubilee as New South Wales celebrated the Queen’s Birthday weekend, an annual event that just to add confusion I discovered is celebrated on different weekends depending on your whereabouts in Australia , whilst New Zealand ever keen to get things off to a snappy start celebrates it the weekend before Sydney gets into the regal party mood.

I had another of my periodic rowing outings yesterday in a social Ladies four, when fortuitously the sun shone and the harbour sparkled. We row up through moored boats, mansions with gardens cascading down steep hillsides to boat houses and docks, and then continue on down through the wooded inlets of the national park. Absolutely stunning and I long for the day when I am a) fit enough and b) competent enough to have the energy and ability to glance round at the scenery rather than clutching my blade (note use of technical language) in a death grip of fierce concentration.

As a consequence of this morning’s outing which encompassed a frankly unbelievable 15 km, I am tending to my blisters and pondering whether I am going to require the services of a crane to get me in and out of the bath as a crab like stance seemed to have set in.

I rowed in a very social (code for hopeless but fun) eight at university for a couple of terms, and looking back I know it would never have occurred to my 18 year old self that in my mid forties that I would be rowing on Sydney Harbour. Given the way that life twists and turns, and fate sends you down unconsidered paths I do feel great sympathy for careers advisers who have to try and give sensible advice to teenagers at the beginning of their working careers. In fact I am full of admiration for people who know what they want to do at 17 based on rational thought – I add this last remark as I have a nasty suspicion my pursuit of a banking career following university was heavily influenced by reading ‘Banker’ by Dick Francis.

We are now at the stage where the Drama Queens are having to start making choices about subject choices and possible futures. One of the options suggested to give some idea as to potential career paths is to participate in Vocational Testing, I was mildly interested to see what the scientific approach would throw up as a potential future – I was however stunned when I glanced at the list of suggested careers based presumably on Drama Queen no.2’s answers and aptitudes. Given the first three suggested professions listed were Aerialist, Blacksmith and Body Makeup Artist, I began to think perhaps the scientific methodical approach to future working life was suffering from what could be classified as a “Funny Turn” – which coincidentally is becoming an increasingly accurate way of describing my own true profession in life.

Sad to say, my first emotion was envy, once I had checked that Aerialist related to “That daring young [lady} on the flying trapeze” rather than to someone who installs car aerials. How much more exciting to have a potential sequined future dangled tantalisingly in front of you rather than the grey tinged fate of a mundane office I wonder if an “Aerial” Training school would accept a middle aged lady for trapeze training, albeit with pre-blistered hands fresh from rowing to prove her worth and grip.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bring on the Pink Paper - Long Live the Weekend FT

Those of you who have read this blog for any length of time (that’s you, Mother) will know I am a big fan of the weekend UK based Financial Times. It takes until mid morning for it to hit the shelves of my two local newsagents and I skip home, clasping it to my chest. It’s very rare I don’t find an article that either interests, amuses me or makes me think – and sometimes all three at once – you can tell when this last phenomenon has happened by the furrowed chimpanzee brow look of concentration on my face.

This week’s edition of the pink paper was a real winner, I found an article on beading in fashion (Thank you from Drama Queen No. 2’s Textiles project) plus an article on Aboriginal art in the Northern Territory that features Lords’s Safaris, run by Sab Lord the charismatic character with whom we had the most fabulous day in Arnhem Land in October, that left everyone from truculent teens to blasé adults open mouthed in amazement at the Aboriginal Art that decorates the rocky outcrops like life blood running through the veins of the land.

The best thing about the paper is that thanks to last weekend’s edition I now have a new life goal. The article ‘Let’s do lunch!’ by Matthew Engel chartered 18 years of the weekly lunch date between an FT writer and someone who is probably best described as a person of interest, coming from any sphere, from fashion designers to business tycoons to artists for example, this week’s luncheon guest is Anish Kapoor, the British artist. Engel recounts the story of Gavin Ewart a 79 year old British poet, who had such a good lunch with writer Nigel Spivey that as Spivey wrote in his article, “We departed the Café Royal in moderately straight line.” Spivey put Ewart on a bus and wended his own merry way, only to receive a phone call the next morning from Mrs Spivey who said, “There are two things you need to know. The first is that Gavin came home yesterday happier than I have seen him in long time. The second – and you are not to feel bad about this – is that he died this morning.”

So there we are, new goal, to reach such exalted literary heights to warrant a lunch invite from the Financial Times in my comparative old age, and to embark on a fabulously enjoyable lunch such that I expire happy - on second thoughts perhaps the expiration bit should be optional?

Friday, May 4, 2012

No more spiders in my bath?

Had a couple of fabulous autumn days in Sydney, the combination of sunshine, a sky so blue that it seems to pulsate and the gold of the leaves of the non-native trees is magical. The only thing that takes the edge off the beauty of my early morning walk is the necessity to keep my eyes peeled for the spiders’ webs that festoon the bushes and paths. There is really nothing to bring a spring to one’s step like the gentle caress of the gossamer tendrils of a large web trailing gently across the face. Actually if I’m truthful it’s less the sticky filaments round my face I’m worried about and more the thought of the large hairy leg that in best horror film tradition, is about to tap me on the shoulder.

The wet summer in Sydney has apparently been a complete boon to spiders as the insect population has thrived in the rain. Worth noting leeches are also having a bumper year and are presumably swelling with pride, not to mention other creatures’ blood, at the explosion of their numbers.

My mother used to recite the following ditty, a happy reminder of her days at a Scottish boarding school.

“No More Latin, no more French,
No more sitting on the hard [school] bench
No more beetles in my tea
Making googly eyes at me
No more spiders in my bath
Trying hard to make me laugh”

I am not actually that worried about finding a spider in the bath – as basically given the size of some of the whoppers we have, not sure it would manage to squeeze its way out of the plughole. I am far more concerned about the very large and hairy monster that has taken up residence in the car. It’s a Huntsman spider, a species that whilst harmless, holds pole position as the big daddy of the Sydney spiders. This particular one specialises in making makes forays from its vehicular hidey-hole, its appearance is generally heralded by shrieks from the Drama Queens, and an overall reluctance to open the car door. Fortunately up until this point it has stayed on the outside of the car where it creeps up and down the glass like a bad horror movie seeming impervious to the rushing air and wild swerves as I attempt to dislodge it. I suspect it lives in the driver’s wing mirror as the glass is now almost totally obscured by spider web tendrils – I generally fight down the urge to wind down my window and clean it with my hand – infinitely preferable to crash into something really.

We did have one friend with a resident Huntsman spider actually inside the car – when he hit a certain speed the vibrations obviously upset the spider and it would shoot out and perform an agitated tarantella upon the dashboard. Speaking for both the Drama Queens and myself this would be the moment that the ‘Abandon Car’ signal would be given.

Fortunately the return of good weather means I can abandon my wellies, there’s nothing to beat the thrill of sticking your hands into the damp cavern of a welly boot to check for spiders before thrusting toes into them. However I take comfort from past experience that has demonstrated that my footwear is basically a death knell for things that go squeak. There was a particularly memorable outing to the beach with Drama Queen No. 2’s class in Rye, NY, where I pulled on my water shoes with some difficulty, only to discover the tight fit was due to a dead mouse in the toe of the left shoe. Nice to know there’s some circumstances that smelly feet have a evolutionary, basic survival advantage.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Big Chill - would you press the rewind button of life?

Just to keep the April ‘Fashion passes me by’ theme going – Qantas has an inflight “Encore” movie section that screens past Oscar winners, a complete boon for people like me who are guaranteed to have missed the Movie of the Year first time round. Obviously I was spoilt for choice in terms of films I’ve never got around to watching, but plumped for “The Big Chill”.

When I was at university in the 80’s, I had a friend who introduced me to the soundtrack of “The Big Chill” along with that of ‘Stand by Me’, and I’ve always loved the music from both films, although in a rare finger on the pulse moment I actually watched “Stand by Me’ when it first came out.

I knew the background story to “The Big Chill’ was based around a group of university friends, now in their late thirties I’m guessing, who gather for a weekend following the funeral of one of the group who has committed suicide. I’m actually quite glad I never got around to watching it first time round as perhaps it is one of those mid life movies you need to watch when you can empathise with things like those close university friendships you never quite loose despite love, marriage, children, years and paunches and people’s lives not turning out as expected. There is something about those type of friendships you make in your late teens and early twenties, a type of shared history and residual fondness that holds you together in a way that’s difficult to replicate later on in life. Watching the movie, I thought of my own group of university friends and tried to imagine us reunited for a weekend – though I couldn’t quite decide who I was going to pick as the unfortunate suicide whose funeral is going to draw us all back together, but I did quite fancy a weekend all holed up together in tastefully decorated American house with a young Meryl Streep as the hostess with the mostest. But perhaps the real message of the film is that at the end of the weekend all the characters pick up and go back to their normal lives, albeit it with a few twists. They don’t decide to keep going in a nostalgic, back to student days type commune because in the end you can't go back.

I’ve just bought the soundtrack as my own private wallow in sentimental nostalgia and the Drama Queens are just going to have to live with their mother reliving her auditory youth at top volume, for after all what other way is there to play such greats as “I Heard It Through the Grape Vine” and “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fashion - c'est moi

Fashions may come and go, but I basically work off a slim number of personal rules of fashion that seem to have been generally applicable over my last four decades. The first of my rules is that it is possible to pinpoint the exact moment when a style has run its course as this is without fail the day that I jump on the bandwagon clad in my witty take on the prevailing mode only to discover I am now kitted out a la dressing up box rather than up to the minute.

The second rule of fashion is just because an outfit looks stunning on a friend of relatively the same size and stature, (the relative here being in her favour rather than mine) it doesn’t mean it is going to look good on me. I went to a dance a couple of weeks ago, styled as a ‘Barefoot Ball’, held on a beach attached to a sailing club, with a dress code of boardshorts and dinner jackets for men and cocktail type dresses for ladies. As I floundered around in a state of wardrobe despair a friend kindly came to my aid with a dress of sufficient glamour and laid back chic that I immediately had one of those ‘yes yes yes’ moments of imagined triumph, completely forgetting past experience with ruffles and silk. I pulled the grey silk –floaty- milkmaid style creation over my head convinced I was going to emerge like Tess of the D’Urbervilles wandering dreamily through mist filled fields. Well ho ho to that, to my disbelief I did indeed look like a milkmaid, but perhaps rather more of the genuine article, brawny and bucolic are the words that came to mind – in actual fact there was a strong resemblance to a cowman in drag.

Fashion is such a fickle thing. I am sure when the Qantas management team commissioned their grey in flight pyjamas from Peter Morrissey, they had no idea they were creating the ultimate teenage lounging item. Overseas guests, who forewarned by email, arrive at the house clutching their complementary pyjamas and hand them over to the resident Drama Queens win immediate brownie points. Fortuitously given any visitor fortunate enough to be flying Business Class tends, surprise, surprise, to be male and on business, the Drama Queens seem to work on the principle of the bigger the better in terms of sizing and slither round the house clad in the outsize grey cotton numbers. (Note to self, have not tried on a pair of the Qantas pyjamas but can safely predict appearance would provide further proof of Rule no.2 above).

My mother also passed on handy fashion tip number 3 that it is always a good idea to look attractive in fancy dress. I think the fact I was contemplating a dramatic entrance in a gorilla suit at the time may have driven her to this remark.

Fashion Rule no. 4 is that there are some circumstances in which no matter what, you have no chance of looking good and I provide photographic proof of this truth beneath. We have just come back from a fabulous if windy week's sailing in the Whitsundays, off the Queensland coast. Owing to the very small chance of being stung by a number of potentially highly unpleasant jellyfish type creatures, charter companies suggest you wear all in one stinger suits. One of the early symptoms of being stung by an irukandji jellyfish the size of a fingernail is a feeling of impending doom. Funnily enough this proves that one's instinct actually works well, as the list of what happens next is not easy reading for those blessed with a vivid imagination and low pain threshold. In such circumstances I'll opt for wearing the outfit, Ursula Andrews Bond Girl par excellence I may not be in my black outfit emerging from the sea, but at least it hopefully it lowers the chances of close encounters of the stinging kind.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Growing old - ingrowing? There just ain't no glamour in the thing

You know you are getting old when you feel the Occupational Health and Safety geezers have a point about the risks associated with open toe sandals. In one quick stumble, I managed to leave half a toe nail hanging by a thread, resulting in a number of choice phrases crossing my lips as I hopped up the front path clasping the afflicted foot in a move reminiscent of yoga devotee stung by a bee.

As previously mentioned I’m a vain type, and fond of my toes, so I nursed the doomed nail on for a bit, even though it was obvious that a parting of the ways was imminent. The only upside of an absolutely hopeless Sydney summer was that my feet were more likely to be shoved into my fetching leopard skin wellies than called upon to make an appearance in public, so once the toe nail and I called it quits, after attempts to keep it wedged in place with sticking plaster failed miserably, I breathed a sigh of relief, kept feet firmly placed in wellies and waited for time to restore me to my former ten-toed glory.

Then began a nagging kind of pain, similar to the dental type ache that generally heralds a sucking in noise from both dentist and credit card, only this time, the pain was in my foot. Ingrowing toenail is not a phrase I ever wanted to have flashing across my brain. So far as I am concerned it belongs firmly in the ‘piles’ section of unfashionable ailments. There are after all limited instances of heroines reclining on sofas suffering from ingrowing toenails or of heroes nobly hobbling on.

Faced with this latest manifestation of body falling apart, I made the almost fatal mistake of consulting the Internet. I should point out that if my toenail reaches the point of surgical intervention, that despite being the most appalling publicity hound, I will not be recording the operation and posting the results on YouTube, but rest assured people do. The mere sight of surgical instruments being waved around defenceless tootsies was quite enough to make my bottom hurt, not to mention toes curl. In the meantime I’m googling the number for the man no girl wants to admit to having on speed dial, the podiatrist.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Travelling Tooth Fairy

Husband has been off on one of his periodic business trips, this time encompassing a week up in Asia – he travels often enough for the glamour of travel to have begun to tarnish so far as he is concerned, whereas I find even the thought of check in a positive excitement. I’m sure some of this passion for flying comes from a childhood immersed in a steady diet of the Biggles books – I loved the way that Biggles plus his sidekicks Ginger and Algy streaked their way across the skies and through adventure with a careless ease that made equal light of German bullets and engine failure over the Congo. By the time I was a teenager I’d moved on to Arthur Hailey and ‘Airport’ and become a junkie for the logistics of airports.

However before I get too distracted by airport fiction I have read, though I do have to mention a classic called “Air Hostess Ann’, a story that more than lived up to its alliterative promise, I should get back on Husband’s track. He was in the midst of a week typified by the feeling of ‘It’s Tuesday, where am I?’ as he clocked up meetings, planes and countries at a frightening rate. Checking into a hotel in a new country late at night he apparently opened his suitcase, pulled out his socks – note rolled into snails by his devoted housekeeper of a wife, though with no guarantee of matching pair, and something else fell out of the case. As he bent to pick it up he realised it was a human tooth. Being by nature, cautious and a complete hypochondriac, he immediately felt round his mouth to check he hadn’t managed to spit out a tooth without noticing!! As one who has just endured two hours in the chair having hideous things done to my teeth in the name of dental longevity I find it incredible that anyone can begin to think you don’t notice a tooth falling out.

Having ascertained there were no unexplained gaps in his mouth, his next thought apparently was that perhaps it had fallen out of one of the customs men’s mouths during a baggage inspection– again my eyes boggled at this one. You can expect piercing screams echoing round the customs hall should I even suspect any official to be on the point of scattering teeth in the direction of my luggage.

Once I had stopped laughing, wifely sympathy obviously being my strong point, we decided that the tooth was probably one of the Drama Queens’ baby teeth that I must have shoved in my jeans pockets or the like, though looking at the thing – as obviously he brought it back and tenderly placed it on my bedside table, it looks distinctly large for a child’s tooth. I suppose the upside is that at least even if unidentified it is only a tooth – just think of the horrors of finding other body parts in your luggage.

Have to raise my hand and say I am not keen on teeth. One of the professional hazards of my job working with primary school children is that they are always loosing teeth and baring bleeding gums or threatening to wiggle teeth that are quite obviously hanging on by the proverbial thread. Like most mothers I kept the first few teeth of each child, somehow throwing them out seemed like a desecration, but now finding the cache of dental relics makes me shudder. However I am sure I am not alone in having egg cups and little boxes stuffed with teeth around the place, perhaps it’s time for tooth throw out day – an event that is definitely going to include the unidentified incisor.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

It ain't over till this fat lady sings - Opera on Sydney Harbour

Ever the optimist I am a complete competition addict. I only have to see the words “Win” and I am off composing ditties, entering photos of my nearest and dearest, twisting short stories to fit bizarre themes and recording barcodes of tins destined to sit at the back of the pantry for all time. Rather mortifyingly my success rate seems to be higher in those competitions where chance is everything, no skill required. To date winnings include a set of white towels (excellent for demonstrating to Drama Queens the permanent nature of fake tan), a coffee machine, (much excitement about this one until it arrived and proved to be smaller than the kettle, useful if you had the seven dwarves popping round, limited enjoyment if you actually wanted a full sized cup of coffee) and a set of surfing lessons – these last were great fun and introduced my middle aged body to a whole new set of challenges, not least how to smile winsomely at the twenty year old instructor whilst simultaneously calculating whether the amount of water I had swallowed placed me officially in the drowning category.

Besides being optimistic, and obviously competitive, I am also the most dreadful show off. Give me a twinkle of the limelight and I’m there, so when I heard about Sydney’s 702 Radio’s opera competition – I was off like a portly greyhound up the track. In what I think is the most inspired competition ever, they asked people to summarise an opera plot in 140 characters – eg Tweet sized, with the prize of a walk on role on the opening night of La Traviata, which is being performed on a giant stage in the middle of Sydney Harbour at the end of this month.

The mere thought of the opportunity of nipping on stage, frocked up, in company with half of Opera Australia, in mercifully for all concerned, a non-singing role, was enough to get me stirred into an operatic frenzy. There is the added bonus of four tickets to opening night for my adoring public eg family.

The fact I know nothing about opera plots beyond the fact that most of them can be summarised with the words “Bad news Mother, all dead.” didn’t deter me in the slightest and I am now a walking compendium of frankly bizarre plots and have also been introduced to one of the funniest books on the topic, ‘The Times Opera Notes’ by Robert Thicknesse who reduced me to the great snorts of laughter befitting a true operatic diva.

Just as well I’ve had some fun out of the whole thing – because the winner is announced today, first costume fitting tomorrow, and sad to report, the phone hasn’t rung – time to throw myself on the floor in a travesty of grief whilst reaching for a high note and beating my breast.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Comfort zones for trailer trash

Have been pondering comfort zones this week and that popular mantra about getting out of them. Given my ultimate comfort zone is a bath with a book and chocolate in theory I don’t have to step too far to haul myself out of the zone.

After a 25 year break I have gone back to rowing. I should clarify here that a) I mean the on the river with oars, nothing so jolly as boats, type of rowing rather than the arguing with husband sport that actually I have been practising pretty consistently for the last twenty years and b) when I saw I rowed 25 years ago I was pretty hopeless then as well – eg there was a reason that conveniently I appear to have forgotten that I didn’t persist on the ‘Wet Bob’ front.

I have been sucked into subbing in a Ladies social four on an intermittent basis – which gives my body a bit of time to recover before the next shock to the system. We row up one of the many arms of Sydney Harbour and today was the most perfect morning to be out on the water. Balmy sunshine seemed like a complete gift given the almost continuous rain of the last month that has resulted in over 70% of New South Wales being on floodwatch on Friday.

Having rowed 13 km today I am now sporting a fairly impressive set of blisters and have developed a crab like crouch of a walk. The box of plasters might as well be strategically placed next to my side of the bed at moment as I have also managed to loose a big toe nail – it finally fell off last night after my inept attempts to strap it in place with a bandaid resulted in my almost cutting off circulation to my toe and waking at two a.m. convinced I was on the road to gangrene. Given I couldn’t rip the plaster off – as at that point vanity dictated I try to keep remnants of toe nail in place, I then had to try and operate on myself to remove the death grip plaster with a pair of blunt baby scissors whilst balancing on the side of the bath.

On the serious side of out of the comfort zone manoeuvres, for reasons that are completely beyond me, I found myself having to pick up a boat trailer that has been sitting in a field for 5 years, drive it through a gate and then tow it 10 km or so to a garage to organise re-registration and general maintenance. I want to say it’s a 20 foot boat trailer here, but fear I may be exaggerating – but if I say it is big enough to stick a boat that seats 8 on it, you get the general picture. I have never towed a trailer in my life so the prospect of this little outing was enough to have me waking in terror in the middle of the night. I felt I couldn’t confess how terrified I was by the thought of trailer towing other than by making a joke of it, but I really did feel sick at the prospect.

I am now happy to fling my hands up and announce to the world that I am no longer a trailer virgin. I have taken a trailer through a gate, round a roundabout, across two lanes of traffic and defying all odds actually managed to park the thing, though I did spend some time scouting a parking spot that didn’t require any reversing. What the whole thing did make me realise though was that being frightened of doing something new is quite normal. That there were things I could do, and indeed did, that made the whole thing marginally less terrifying including visiting the garage on a recce visit and checking out the route – the garage guys at Middle Harbour Marine are now my new best friends as they were total stars and kept their faces straight whilst they calmed my nerves, fixed trailer, screwed on new number plates and lent me nuts and bolts to attach rego label holder. I also press ganged a friend to come with me as moral support and more importantly as a spare body to hold the hazard triangle when I either broke down or more likely absent mindedly side swiped a top of the range BMW – (based on experience I never crash into bottom of the range wrecks).

The thing I had forgotten about these type of out of comfort zone experiences is the amazing feeling of euphoria, cartwheels down the road joy that you get when you have tackled something you were frightened of/unnerved by and you’ve conquered it. Somehow I must pass on to the Drama Queens, sometimes it’s the things you find hardest that give you the most satisfaction – on which note off to re apply plasters and consider when I tackle trailer reversing for beginners.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Romance and Roses, are those for me?

Valentine’s Day always catches me on the hop and that goes for the frog in my life – or sorry should that be Prince Charming? Regardless of the fact that it is heralded by hopeful hearts and flower decorations and prominently placed lingerie and chocolates in every shop window somehow the evening of the 13th of February always ends the same way with my standing in the newsagent with a predominantly male group of last minute chancers looking disconsolately at an array of cards that I wouldn’t send to my worst enemy let alone my nearest and dearest. This year at the last gasp I remembered I had a vaguely appropriate one in my card bag – or at least more appropriate than the “Welcome Baby Boy’ that’s been there at least a year – could someone hurry up and have a boy. It was unfortunate when I opened up the card that it said “Happy Anniversary” but a slash of the pen soon corrected that – it could have been worse along the lines of “Get Well Soon” that might have made it sound as if love and marriage were some kind of lingering affliction.

Valentine’s Day dawned grey as it were, as indeed it dawns every single morning in Sydney at the moment and indeed far from being drenched in rose petals I got absolutely soaked walking into work – I can see the ‘Ditch the car and use the Legs’ New Year’s Resolution is about to go the same way as the rest of them. My mood lifted when I returned home to find a large flower box on the front step. I walked up the steps with a Nigella Lawson, think Domestic Goddess, type sway of my hips. The smirk however was swiftly replaced by a look of frothing fury as I discovered that far from being from a secret admirer, or even at a pinch my husband, the flowers in question were in fact for one of my daughters. Hell hath no fury like a mother scorned. I had a moment of instant empathy on the Snow White’s stepmother front – and made a mental note not to ask any mirrors leading questions along “Who’s the fairest?” lines for fear of receiving an unfavourable if truthful opinion. I also resolved to point out to the relevant Drama Queen the importance of explaining to any prospective boyfriends the first rule of successful dating - “Suck up to the mother.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Call yourself an expat?

The sun has made a rare appearance this afternoon in Sydney so the back garden is now festooned with washing in an attempt to get to grips with the backlog that has been building whilst wet and grey has been the default weather pattern. February is generally the hottest month in Sydney but to put things into perspective when I went to bed last night my feet were cold and my good old RM Williams boots, the stockman’s standby designed to stand up to life on the rough side, have gone mouldy in my wardrobe – and I can’t face looking to see what else in the clothing line is sporting attractive white spots and whiskers.

The bright and cheery high spot of the week though, was a performance by Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre Company of ‘Midsummer’ at the Opera House last night. It’s a really clever modern take on a romantic comedy complete with songs and guitar solos, all set in Edinburgh. It’s riotous, raunchy with the main prop a double bed and has a couple of laughing through your fingers in front of your eyes type moments. Conjured up Edinburgh for me – partly because it is such a small city centre that even though I haven’t lived there since I left university, I could immediately imagine where the two participants were in their mad weekend trotting round the town – though I should perhaps clarify that whilst I knew where most of the settings were. I have never popped into a bondage club in Leith. Am sure part of the reason I loved the production so much was because the accents and humour reminded me so much of home – and that’s an interesting concept in itself. When does one stop being an expat and become a local? What’s the difference between an expat and a recent immigrant? And at what point does home become where you are, rather than where you’re from?

We’ve lived in Sydney three times – so we’re serial Sydneysiders, (try saying that after a few beers at a barbie) – and Sydney definitely feels like home in many ways to us BUT I do still listen to Radio 4 – (got to love the internet radio Husband got me that has transformed my listening), and just the thought of being plonked into the UK high street sends me into paroxysms of joy – but that may just be a combination of unfamiliarity and the strength of the Aussie dollar.

A great friend has just moved to Amsterdam with her family, and reading her emails about the excitement and frustrations of family relocation is unsettling me as I have come to the conclusion that now I no longer really count as an expat, I do miss some of the addictive aspects of life on the move. There is something in me that craves that adrenaline rush of a new place, new people, situations that make the eyes boggle and the brain buzz – the sense of being you as a unit, be it couple or family, standing together in the face of a city of strangers, never mind the more mundane questions such as where you buy a kettle. One of my favourite, reread again and again books, is ‘Diplomatic Baggage’ by Brigid Keenan, subtitled ‘The Adventures of a Trailing Spouse’ that should be required reading for anyone contemplating life as an expat as it conjures up the ups and downs of life perpetually adjusting to life on the other side of the comfort zone. Dangerous reading for a change addict like me!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hairy Spiders, Hairy Maclary - I can feel a theme coming on

Happy Australia Day! Unfortunately far from breaking out the beer round the barbie I have been marching around Sydney today attractively clad in bright yellow sou’wester, a relic of my New York days when I expected rain, snow, sleet and hail on a pretty regular basis. Although the weather over the last couple of days can be officially classified as filthy, I can’t complete the outfit with my leopard skin wellies as they had been stored in the pool box over the theoretically dry summer and as a result are now soaking wet. I have hung them upside down by the back door partly to dry out and partly because having spotted a hand sized huntsman spider crawling into Husband’s docksiders last week, I am incredibly loathe to stick my hands, or indeed my toes, into any potential spider hidey hole. I am not usually particularly squeamish about spiders but I tend to get a bit twitchy tackling those that a) have legs that are visibly hairier than my own and b) that require a sizeable container for capture.

Early on in our marriage in a show of bravado I attempted to capture a huntsman marching with evil intent down the sloping ceiling above our bed, and just for reference when I describe huntsmen spiders as hand-sized I am not in one of my exaggeration prone moments though I should also add in the interests of accuracy that I do have quite small hands. Husband had refused to man up to the situation and in a ‘well, this just shows women are best’ type gesture, I tackled the thing using a jug. It was somewhat unfortunate that in my triumph I forgot that jugs have spouts and with a Machiavellian cunning the spider shot out the spout and dropped straight on top of the man who hates spiders with a passion, from memory it was hard to tell who exited the bed fastest but there were certainly a fair number of legs, all hairy, flashing around in panic.

Hurrah - the sun has just come out - maybe there's hope for all those barbeques yet. The back garden has taken on jungle like tendencies as a result of all the rain and humidity, and I have to report that my hair seems to have gone for a similar growth spurt. Given I had it all cut off three weeks ago it's a little disconcerting to find I am back in the running for best 'Hairy Maclary from Donaldsons Dairy' look alike - though I suppose it's slightly preferable to a resemblance to that other great canine creation of Lynley Dodds, 'Schnitzel von Krumm with a very low tum'.

Monday, January 16, 2012

'Top Gear' it isn't - but top holidays at Hyams Beach

Happy Belated New Year! I’m beginning to think I might have got too much into the holiday spirit, sand and slackness seems to be pervading the house as well as this blog, as evidenced by the slow progress on all domestic fronts. The pile of unsorted clean washing is now so large even the dog is looking nervous as he edges his way past. The dog, by the way, celebrated New Year by moving from being a dog still absent-mindedly hopping around on three legs to one with only two fully functioning limbs. Husband asked hopefully what would happen when dog got down to one leg, but fortunately for Pluto’s prospects of canine old age, he’s back to a tentative four.

We’ve just had a relaxing week at a beach three hours down the coast from Sydney. Hyams Beach in Jervis Bay is as close to paradise as you are going to get. White sands, water that is gin clear, and that in fact sparkles and glints in the tradition of the very best gin and tonic. It's a rare day you don't spot dophins carving effortless arcs through the waves just off shore at least once. The bird life is raucous and plentiful from flocks of galahs with their raspberry and cream coloring, to multicoloured parakeets, rosellas and kookaburras sitting on the verandah rails hoping to launch a lightning raid on any dropped bits of food. The odd sighting of a fish eagle soaring along the coastline added gravitas to the whole thing.

One of the nicest things about Hyams Beach, the town we rent a house in, is that it is surrounded by Jervis Bay National Park which is fantastic as it's remained a discrete hamlet rather than spreading into a coastal strip. The main national park in the area, Booderee National Park is a short drive with some amazing walks down to a variety of seascapes from ocean beaches filled with surfers and boogie boarders to deserted Robinson Crusoe type stretches with a somersaulting seal the only swimmer at one.

Husband and children went deep sea fishing, and returned with so much fish that over the last 24 hour period we’ve had battered fish and chips (shark), fish steaks (Kingfish) and Roll mops (Herring). The Drama Queens were triumphant they weren’t seasick, apparently most of the rest of the party were either popping pills or hanging over the side – privately thought I was glad I didn’t go as I am sure I would have been one of the unfortunates to spend an expensive couple of hours thinking I was about to die.

One of my personal highlights of Hyams is the one local cafe and store, currently advertised as “Under Old Management”, and a fantastic source of coffee and still warm muffins in the morning, lazy lunches sitting on the verandah watching the life of the place flood in over the afternoon for ice creams and coffee, and how much more effortless and easy does it get than to stroll down to a delicious supper?

As with all good beach holidays, the amount of equipment needed was mindblowing; the provisional pack included skateboards, eskis (Cool boxes), beach umbrellas, deckchairs for grandparents and fishing gear. Just to add to the spatial challenge the decision was then made to take a two man sailing dinghy down with us. This added an interesting wrinkle to the packing problem in that the combination of a learner driver needing to get her hours up and a ban on learners towing trailers meant the dinghy had to be strapped to the roof of the car along with the mast. It’s a disconcerting feeling being a passenger in a two storey car, especially given the interesting sound effects created by the strapping holding the damn thing in place, that vibrated as we gained windspeed and produced a noise akin to a cross between a dentist drill and an animal howl - Jeremy Clarkson eat your heart out!