Sunday, March 20, 2016

Real People and Imaginary Friends

Today’s weather which is grey, not a scud of sun and heavy rain alternating with drizzle is a forcible reminder that perhaps I wouldn’t be that good at living in the UK any more.   I think I have become too much of a Southern Hemisphere gal – used to a default setting of sunshine, heat and blue skies, and rain that is more of the tropical downpour variety than the depressing backdrop to life stuff we are getting now.

During the almost 25 years we have been married, we’ve only spent 5 years in the UK.  It was a brief, undoubtedly rain-filled, but very happy, interlude, where we lived in Balham, and went from having one child to three.  Towards the end of the five years, I went back to university and qualified as a teacher, but before that foray back into student life, I spent a couple of years based mostly on my knees or sitting on the floor, clutching a cup of tea, chatting to my friends whilst numerous small children crawled and roamed around us.  In terms of timing it was just the best, our return to London, complete with a growing number of small children coincided with the brief period of time when the majority of my university friends were London based and all having children, so I had a ready made social group and the great luxury of having time with people who made me laugh, and even better understood my jokes.

I have just read ‘Late Fragments – Everything I Want to Tell You (About this
Magnificent Life)’ by Kate Gross.  She was as she says “ a successful thirty-something with an amazing job through which I travel the world and converse with presidents and prime ministers.  My adorable twins are three, and their father, Billy, is my soulmate, as well as being the best-looking man I’ve ever kissed.”   And then she discovers she has advanced colon cancer, and she decides to write a book for her twin sons to tell them who she was.  I loved the book, though I approached it with some trepidation as I am always nervy of cancer/illness memoirs as I think it takes really great writing to rise above the grief and misery, but what I think sets Kate Gross’s book apart is her thoughts on the business of living if you like, rather than dying.  I particularly liked her chapter on female friendships – I sat reading, going, ‘yes, yes, yes’ – thinking as I read that she was saying, so brilliantly, what I have always thought, and I so wish she were still alive so that I could write to her and say “Please, please, be my friend’. 

One of the things Kate says about her time at university is that “I count my time at university as precious not just because it is where I hatched [from a grub, as she characterises her teenage years], but because it is where I made the friendships that have accompanied me ever since.”  One of the upsides of moving round the world is that it forces you into situations of similar type intensity to those university days –  a survive, make friends or die type mentality, so I have been blessed in that I have continued to make great friends in life, but in the end it is the university and school friends who tend to get the middle of the night hysterical phone call or to whom I can admit that I have just eaten a whole packet of Cadbury’s mini-eggs and am now lurching round the kitchen like a Labrador that has committed a similar transgression.

Perhaps I actually was a Labrador in a previous life as I’m obviously very prone to wanting to bound up to people saying ‘Be my friend’ and metaphorically nuzzling around their knees – though obviously giving the sniffing their groin a miss.  Having just read J K Rowling’s address to Harvard Graduates in 2008  - (missed it at the time but it is just doing the rounds on Facebook a mere eight years later), she is clearly going on the list too as yet another inspirational and funny woman who seems to speak for me, and to me, but who also I feel wouldn’t be averse to a gingernut dunked in a mug of tea.

Before I get too carried away with my new all female fantasy friendship group, I should add the person who started me off on the wanting complete strangers, who take my fancy, as friends kick, which is now how I typify people who I admire and who make me laugh, was Jimmy Mulville, after I heard him on Desert Island Discs

Regardless of the rain outside and my bizarre Labrador like tendencies to want to be friends with the outstanding who cross my path, in print or on radio, what I should be reflecting on is how lucky I am like Kate Gross, to have so many outstanding friends in my life already, who do inspire and make me laugh on a daily basis, so this is a reminder to myself to cherish them and always to have a packet of biscuits or a bottle of wine handy in case they drop in.

PS Belatedly I realise the title for this post was stolen from the titles of two books by Alison Lurie, the American novelist, who is definitely on the list of desired friends, though such is the level of my admiration for her, I am not sure I would actually be able to utter a word were I ever to come face to face with her.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Just a cough to the left, a splutter to the right

It’s been fabulous weather in Sydney and to be honest there are few places to beat Sydney Harbour when the sun is shining.  

February is often the hottest month of the year, coinciding helpfully as it does with school going back, but this year summer is continuing to excel itself well into March.  Sydney is in the middle of a record breaking run, 37 days in a row where the temperature has been 26 oC or over and 21 nights where it has been 20 oC – (for my Fahrenheit readers that’s a daily temperature of 79 oF or over and a lot of the time it has been well over, we are not talking warm here, we are talking days that are candle melting hot, and a nightly temperature that hasn’t dropped below 68 oF).  Basically safe to say jolly consistently hot, no matter what temperature gauge you are using.

I went to see La Boheme at Sydney Opera House on Friday– please note the way I slipped that in, culture vulture that I am – the reality is I am complete operatic philistine and were it not for subtitles I would not have a clue about what is going on in any given opera.  However I loved La Boheme and was mesmerised by the music, energy generated by the performers and the set.  The heroine, Mimi dies of consumption at the end – as in all operas in my limited experience, death seems to feature pretty majorly.  As she coughed her way to her last, I reflected upon the fact that despite the type of weather than induces heat exhaustion rather than a constant hacking, coughs are pretty much theme of the day in my household.

Based on past history a visit to my hairdresser is often fraught with drama – over the past year the monthly snip has been interrupted in one instance by a tow man towing my week old, brand new car out of the underground car park where it had given up the ghost, many of the locals still dine out on the story of the maniac woman with her hair in foils and wearing a black smock, who was directing traffic (and swearing a lot) during that incident.  Then there was the phone call I received, also whilst clad in a becoming black gown, to say my brother had been knocked down by a cyclist and was in an ambulance on his way to one of the major Sydney hospitals – fortunately he was okay after a few stitches and a couple of days rest, and equally fortunately (being totally self-centred as I am) Roger had finished cutting my hair before the phone call came and I belted out of the saloon at high speed.  As a result of these and other incidents, Roger and I both approach the cut as a time-trial before fresh drama breaks out.  So when my phone buzzed this time and I saw it was a text from Drama Queen No. 2 who has just started at university in Melbourne, approximately 876km from home, my heart sank.  Her text read, “ What do I have, a dry irritating cough or a chesty one?” – difficult to call that one from a distance I felt, but I was touched by her faith in my diagnostic powers on the cough front. 

However her chest ailments pale into insignificance next to those of Husband who is marooned in the grey and cold of a UK March, and who claims that he thinks he has got Legionnaire’s disease – there is an potential outbreak in Sydney at the moment and the source is thought to be close to his office here – so technically he could be afflicted, particularly as he assures me the incubation period is up to 10 days (he looked it up). 

In the great operatic tradition I feel I could be conducting my own cough symphony quite soon, waving in the hypochondriac section, and then cuing the student splutters, so that we finish in a combined family coughing fit of which Mimi would be proud.  Meanwhile I'm hoping we make 40 days in a row of great weather.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

21 and the joint is jumping

Hooray, we survived.  Actually, pause for a brief moment whilst I check on full count of teeth, limbs, state of marriage, number of Drama Queens still on talking terms with rest of family.  All present and correct – just amazing, given I had expected to wake up post Drama Queen No. 1’s 21st Birthday Party in my own particular version of T S Eliot’s Wasteland.

She was actually 21 four days before Christmas, but sensibly decided to postpone the party until a time when no other major birthday (Jesus or anyone else) or celebration could overshadow it.  Having decided upon a Scottish theme, whiskey and haggis quickly hit the must have list – I vetoed requests for the sheep that would apparently add Scottish authenticity to our suburban Sydney house – apparently you can get one for $60 on Gumtree, but I remained resolute, having a pretty fair idea who’d be playing Little Bo Peep post party and frankly I’m far too old for the golden curls and shepherd’s crook called for by that particular role.

The run up to the party, mentally billed in my own mind as the Ben Hur event, was relatively smooth as the birthday girl is a three hour drive away at university and aside from fielding the boxes of tartan themed objects turning up on the doorstep I was able to stay calm.  Australian male friends wound up Husband with cries of “Mate (mate being drawn out in that peculiarly Australian way) you’re going to need more beer.  More beer, Mate” – I’m never sure whether his friends find it necessary to repeat these kind of instructions because they think he is hard of hearing,  or whether they worry about his powers of understanding.  As a result in between the tartan paperchains, bunting and ribbon deliveries, boxes of beer kept arriving and our spare room was soon standing room only for bottles as well as potential guests.

In the event we were blessed, it was a fabulous warm Sydney evening, the 21 year olds were on top form and a pleasure to have in the house. Even the dog dressed up as type of tartan shuttlecock and “My oath” another great Australianism, did they drink – at the end of the night we had six bottles of beer left which I think officially counts as being drunk dry and basically proves the Aussie blokes were right on the bottles of beer per head calculation.  We had people in the pool and a naked dancer on the dance floor – events that frankly all good parties need.

I am now a convert to the concept of a 21st – forget 18th or 16th birthday parties.  By 21 the guest list is that bit older, used to having a drink without going crazy and just an easier crowd to deal with in terms of the parental health and safety worries – not to mention sanity concerns.  So thank you to all the guests for making it such a fun event that was a pleasure to host, and I’ll carry on taking down the bunting – anyone thinking of hosting a St Andrew’s Night or Burn’s Night supper, have I got the d├ęcor for you.