Here in Australia, we are not in full lockdown yet, but the system is already broken. A couple of days into any sort of meaningful distancing rules and not a drop of tonic water is to be found on supermarket shelves.
I’m not certain where it all went wrong, but I blame those idiots who made the news public that quinine (one of the ingredients of tonic) might be a potential deterrent against the dreaded COVID-19. It is their lack of judgment when it comes to the self-centred behaviours of the rabid stockpilers that has put an end to my gin and tonic days.
I understand about the shortages of meat, milk and toilet roll… BUT TONIC WATER, FFS! Don’t people understand that gin and tonic is an “essential” self-medication in the treatment of anxiety?
Surely, as a community, we can demonstrate more empathy for those doing it tough? Interestingly, I do seem to be weathering this storm better than I expected to, although that may have something to do with the government’s decision to keep golf courses and driving ranges open – which means that the old man is still out of my hair for part of the day. Or, it may simply be because (APPARENTLY) some people with anxiety cope better than most with crises of this calibre.
It’s fair to say that this level of unprecedented disaster is exactly what we have been anticipating EVERY BLOODY DAY of our lives! And to be quite frank, for most of us self-isolation is the dream!
Personally, I am more inclined to believe that I am simply in denial, especially when not much has actually changed in my day-to-day life. As an educator, I continue to risk life and limb on the frontline in my job as “babysitter” to Australia’s (petri dish of) children, putting my own health directly at risk.
Of course, that means I’m secretly hopeful that (at the end of this nightmare) my sacrifice will ensure me an Order of Australia, a concert, or just a very big hug from Chris Hemsworth at the very least. What I don’t need, though, is your thanks, Mr Morrison – not when you’ve given me no choice in the matter. As a casual worker, I don’t get paid if I don’t work – unless we shut down.
On second thoughts, Scotty, maybe there is one thing you could do for me by way of your appreciation. Next time you’re at Kirribilli House, perhaps you could check out your tonic supplies…
I was listening to a podcast with Clare Bowditch on Conversations this morning (about her book Your Own Kind Of Girl) and it made me question exactly why I’ve started another diet. Like her, I came to the conclusion a while ago that weight is unimportant (as long as it is within a healthy range and not affecting your health); that it’s what’s on the inside that counts; and that society needs to bloody well grow up and accept that most healthy women do not fit the skinny model stereotype promoted by magazines – hence the popularity of Celeste Barber.
In general, I manage to maintain my Reubenesque figure by compensating for my food and alcohol over-indulgences by working my butt off on walks and runs. However, the toll from Christmas this year has been grim and I’ve been sucked into a diet by the vanity of the old man who says he feels uncomfortable being overweight.
Neither of us wants to get down to the sort of unrealistic weight that means that you start rocking in a corner when you think about a Magnum, but we’d like to lose the weight we’ve gained over the last two years – to avoid the slippery slope of unfair weight distribution that happens to so many people in middle age.
I blame our Christmas visitors for the last few kilos I’ve gained – skinny visitors who ate as much as us, exercised less, and still manage to remain thin. Also, any host knows how impossible it is to eat mindfully when you have guests in the house and you have to show off the enviable lifestyle of Australia (bushfires excluded). And in Sydney the food is as spectacular as the beaches. The day only starts after one of THE BEST BREAKFASTS in the world, followed by – as a result of our wonderfully diverse population – a veritable smorgasbord of international feasting to choose from over the rest of the day.
Worse, when you have guests (particularly at Christmas), any rules around drinking fly out the window. – so even though we weren’t officially on holiday, we were happy to use the rellies as an excuse for extra bevvies.
Hence, I find myself fitting a little too snugly into my size 14 clothes, and albeit that left to my own devices I would probably have continued to ignore the extra tire around my middle and hoped for the best once I get back into some sort of routine – When? – I am sadly married to a man obsessed with his weight.
So we’ve hooked up to an app called Easy diet diary which is basically a calorie counting tool that works like this: You put in your weight, height etc and tell it how much weight you want to lose and in how much time, and then it suggests a daily calorie intake to achieve your goal. Each day, you add in every morsel you eat, every drop of liquid you drink, and every kilometre you sweat – although I’m not counting calories burnt during exercise as that me permission to drink more.
It is unhealthily competitive and we are learning to be cunningly strategic – which is the only fun aspect of a diet – but it has given us something to talk about over the past few days i.e. like how f…ing hungry we are. And on a more serious note, we have started to think about what we put in my mouths, particularly when it comes to portion sizes. You can imagine my pain one morning when I had to put a large slice of watermelon back in the fridge because it meant I would have to forego a glass of wine that night.
And talking of wine, basically what feels like a mouthful of wine (100mls) equates to around 80cals, so on drinking days you really have to be careful about how many food calories you consume or switch to spirits which are generally kinder.
It’s amazing what you discover. I won’t bore you with the calorific content of every food faux-ami – i.e. foods we thought were healthy but turn out to be wickedly calorific – That’s right SALMON, I’m talking about you – but who knew that trail mix, coffee, and chocolate were so bloody fattening? Or that a shot of Cointreau is a whopping 91 calories?
Where the fun really comes in is seeing how much yoghurt or muesli you can squeeze into a quarter of a cup; or how many units of alcohol you can fit in without starving; and what you can eat with those precious six calories left at the end of the day – suffice it to say, I’m still trying to work out the value of a single M&M.
The experience has certainly been an education – one I won’t be repeating as soon as I get down to a svelte size 12 over the next week or so.
Anger was the main topic of conversation during my last visit to my therapist for the year. Anger about stuff I can’t control, mainly, but also anger about the world stuff I talked about here in my last post, as well as some anger issues about the usual personal frustrations.
In response, she drew that volcano on the board for me again, which is supposed to represent the three things that cause anger – fear, sadness, anxiety – but in truth, she could have added resentment, disappointment and envy as well.
Of course, anger is not an unusual emotion to experience at this time of the year, when there is so much anticipation, expectation, and erm family involvement. Which is why I have found myself pounding the pavements around my lake more often and more heavily than usual in the lead up to Christmas in an attempt to keep that woe is me vibe under control.
That’s why it was so good to be reminded that some things/people can’t be changed, and her analogy about not buying a cake from the butchers made perfect sense. And so, instead of dwelling on my frustrations about the last year in this final post before Christmas, I thought I’d give gratitude another go.
Here it is: my list of thank yous to the people and things that have contributed to my happy bits this year:
The agents who have rejected my book – not really – because they’ve forced me to look at my manuscript again and improve it. I refuse to give up on this story that I know millions of women and mothers that are coping with mental illness in their family will identify with.
My anti-depressants for my anxiety. Without them, there would have been many times I would have crumbled and given up. I continue to believe wholeheartedly that if you need medication for an illness, you take it, and no one should judge you for that choice.
The editors who have taken a chance on me and allowed me to express my humble opinions to a much larger audience than this blog.
My boss, for having faith in me, even though I keep questioning why.
Old friends and family from the UK, who occasionally drop me a line and fill my heart with love.
The Princess, who makes me look like a saint when it comes to unpredictable moods as she ages and who accepts me for who I am. In fact, thank you to all dogs who give so much unconditional love to their families and who provide so much entertainment on video.
Toasted sandwiches – I rediscovered these halfway through the year and they are one of my new favourite comfort foods.
Running – WTF!? I’m not going any further, any faster, or enjoying it any more than when I started this craziness, but it is one of the healthier ways to quash the anger.
My therapist – I clicked with her the first time we met and I’m gutted that she’s moving away to pastures new. Thank you for not sitting on the fence. Thank you for sympathizing when I have those woe is me moments, and thank you for knowing exactly the right time to tell me to put on my big girl panties.
My children – I want to thank NC for being my best friend, for always being straight with me, and for loving me in spite of my questionable nurturing skills. I know that her inheritance of the emotionally awkward gene makes it as hard for her to demonstrate her feelings, so let’s see just how bloody awkward Christmas can get when the two of us are forced to hug publicly again. Thank you Kurt for the many corners you have turned this year, for making me a proud mama even when you don’t think I am, for holding on, for holding out, for showing strength in the face of adversity, and for beating the old man at pool.
Family – Thank you to those who stay in touch in spite of the distance I have put between us; to those who have braved a visit to the other side of the world, and to those who keep alive the memory of those that we have lost, which is far too many. A special thank to my siblings who have been through a lot of the same shithouse stuff as me, whose wings have been broken time and time again, and yet who manage to stick them back on each year and maintain a sense of humor.
Wine – Thank you for getting me through many awkward social situations and personal crises, even if next year I am determined to put some distance between us. At the age of 54, I’m beginning to understand the ramifications of toxic relationships.
My walking buddies – I never thought I would enjoy walking, come to hate noise, and see the point of plants. I like to think of the middle-aged stereotype I am turning into as maturing rather than growing old. Thank you to those friends with whom I have travelled kilometres, over-analysing our lives for their meaning. So many times I’ve returned from those journeys a changed woman. Our talks have made me understand how good life is when it is simple. Being at one with nature in the company of good friends is all an old girl really needs – except for no. 12, obviously.
The cunts – Thank you to those people whose ignorance, discrimination, and abuse of privilege has made me wiser and stronger. To those who are too blind and too arrogant to acknowledge the inequality between men and women, the plight of refugees, or the affects of climate change. To those who refuse to accept that certain types of humour are simply not appropriate and continue to put their needs above everyone else and judge a book by its cover. To those who refuse to accept that the world is evolving, and without their massive cuntery, those changes might be for the better.
To the fire fighters and other rescue services, thank you for your generosity, bravery and commitment to keeping us safe here in Australia.
To the men who have shown empathy for the women who have been abused and betrayed by their gender, who have supported rather than doubted or torn them down. To the men who are determined to change toxic masculinity for their own benefit as well as ours, who knock back sexist jokes, who cry, who show their sons love and who share the emotional and physical load at home.
To my readers and followers – thank you for putting up with my lack of filter, sweariness, biassed opinions and embarrassing need for attention. Thank you for validating my writing and making me feel more relevant.
To the people who have made me laugh this year – Benjamin Law, Ricky Gervais, Daniel Sloss, the writers of Guilty Feminist, Wil Anderson and his Wilosophy, Kathy Lette and Tim Minchin, to name a few.
To my health. Thank you to my body for putting up with the abuse I give it. Next year, I will not take it for granted as much and try to value each extra day that I am given.
To my husband who puts up with my shit on a daily basis. I don’t tell him often how much I love him and appreciate him 1) because we’re reached that stage where we take each other for granted, and 2) because a lot of the time he irritates the fuck out of me. But evidently, the fact that we can still laugh together and at each other is the glue that has bound us together for another year.
A very Happy Christmas and New Year to everyone xx
I was a grown-up last weekend. The old man and I went on a date night to a swanky restaurant and I chose to drive.
In my last post I talked about the necessity of making choices in middle age, and prior to last night, I would have looked forward to washing down the posh grub with a bottle of expensive wine, and wasted the afternoon working out a feasible way to get to the restaurant on public transport. What can I say? I like drinking. Alcohol tastes nice. Drinking turns me into the interesting, cool girl I should have been…at least, until the next morning. It helps me cope, and gets me out of the house.
For me, drinking is also a form of self-care. Hear me out, peeps. You see, my list above doesn’t account for alcohol’s other, hidden benefits for me personally: its medicinal ones for colds, backache, and muscle pain; its effectiveness as a coping strategy for my social anxiety; its ability to foster connection; and the strength it provides me to contend with a society that writes women my age off, (or only draws attention to us for all the wrong reasons – Alexandra Grant).
Therefore, it was with some surprise that grown-up-me decided that night that (for the sake of a couple more drinks) I couldn’t be assed to sit on a bus full of obnoxious teenagers or work through a heinous hangover the next morning.
Anyway, everyone knows the first sip is the best.
A few years ago, I wrote in my first paid article for Mamamia on the subject of my concerns about my drinking and the increase in women’s drinking in middle age. I remember that what I was really aiming to do in that article was to empathize rather than shame women who drink. I can’t remember the exact headline I pitched to the editor for the story, but it was changed to ‘I am a functioning alcoholic and I’m not alone’ – and I was mortified. At the timeI think I was looking for a new job.
BUT… if the decrease in the number of units our government deems healthy for us to drink is anything to go by, she had a point. AND…Maybe I’m paranoid, but drink shaming seems to be levelled more directly at women – and in particular middle-aged women. Granted, there are medical reasons for this – in that women’s bodies can’t process as much alcohol as men. But there is also this social construct that a woman who is drunk is far more shameful than a man, even though many men who have drunk too much go on to do terrible things, while a woman is more likely to fall asleep on the sofa. Just check out the photos of the after-race parties if you don’t believe me.
Why are men given license to have fun, while women are expected to stay at home and live like nuns? You can see that question in people’s heads when they see a group of drunk women – who’s looking after the kids while they’re out drinking? Well, Carol, who’s looking after the kids while their dad’s out drinking?
However, since I wrote that article, I have become more aware of the effect that alcohol has on my body – I’m getting old, Goddammit! – which is why, (and trust me when I promise that I am not getting sober and deserting my people entirely) – I’ve decided to “drink smarter” (in the words of Kate Spicer from The Sunday Times).
Menopause has played a huge role in that decision. I’m certain that many of you fifty-somethings will identify with the impossibility of being a functioning alcoholic when your hormones contrive to make your life – and in particular, your hangovers – as unpleasant as possible. Suffice it to say, I have to be fully committed to knock back a bottle of wine.
So, yes…the hangovers from hell, my aspirations to run 5kms (more than once), and that other cruel twist of menopause – weight gain – have guilted me into reducing the Rose and discarding the Chardy. I wish I could say that concerns about my longevity or longterm health were truly behind my decision, but after twenty years of smoking, a lifetime of anxiety, and a pretty shoddy family history when it comes to health, I know I’m fucked I’ve been playing Russian Roulette for a while now.
AndI won’t deny it is a struggle. Alcohol is a wonderful crutch, it has been a loyal and reliable friend, and maintaining my commitment to Kombucha for just a couple of nights a week has stretched my self-discipline to the max. I am want to crumble at the first sign or conflict or stress.
But that’s okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
I suppose what I’m really trying to say in this very convoluted post is that when the fun police make you feel bad about your drinking, don’t beat yourself up about it. You are not alone. Many of us have vices we’re not proud of – for some of us that is a glass or two of wine, for others it is several Magnums – as in the ice cream; for others still, it is leading corrupt governments and ignoring the voice of democracy.
Personally, I’ve never had a problem with drinking with non-drinkers or fellow alcoholics and I don’t need anyone to drink with me to have a good time (See symptoms of an alcoholic). I do see the benefits of sobriety, but I am also aware that swift judgments are easy to make; it takes much more time to look beneath the surface.
My intention is not to glorify alcohol, but there are still occasions in my life when I am dealing with stuff when I want/need to drink. There are also occasions when I want to celebrate that I’m still here and in a good place. And in the words of the author, Mike Gayle “We all do what we need to do to get by.”
I didn’t begin page 1 of the next 365 with a run or yoga. Instead, I lay in bed for as long as I could, and when the pain in my head refused to go away, I was grateful for Berocca.
On page 1 of 365, it wasn’t goals on my mind, it was food – ALL THE FOOD! A traditional English brunch – hastily crafted out of the Christmas leftovers in the fridge and including lashings of carcinogen bacon – helped put me out of my misery. I am grateful for my Statins.
On page 1 of 365, the old man forced me out of the house to take the dog for a walk and a swim and I cursed him all of the way. I may even have considered divorce for the first time this year as I rued that last glass of white of 2018 – that with hindsight, I didn’t really need. But I was grateful to our little dog for reminding me of the joy of the simple things in life.
On page 1 of 365, I warned the old man to remain outside a five-meter radius of me at all times and each time he breached it, I snarled and barked at him. But I was grateful that I could.
On page 1 of 365, I moved from breakfast to the main course of chocolate with ease. When the Celebrations had gone, I shifted gear onto the family box of Maltesers from NC’s stocking and the last couple of Ferrero Rocher that had somehow survived Kurt’s random assault on Christmas Eve. I am always grateful for chocolate, which has been a stalwart best friend through the toughest of times.
On page 1 of 365, I drank so much water that every Victoria’s Secret Angel would be proud of me, and I was grateful for clean water and a Soda Stream.
On page 1 of 365, I finished one series on Netflix and began a second on Amazon Prime. I can now see what Emily Blunt sees in John Krasinski, and I am grateful that wine has not killed as many brain cells as I suspected, and I could still concentrate. I only asked the old man once to explain WTF was going on.
On page 1 of 365, I ignored the call of the expensive bottle of wine from the fridge – that had somehow camouflaged itself behind the cheap wine and the turkey legs (that no one eats) over Christmas – and I am grateful for that surprising, long twelve hours of willpower.
On page 1 of 365, I decided to focus on networking, so I dedicated a good five out of twelve hours to social media, hating on Louis CK, stalking women I admire, commiserating with other drunks (women I admire), and celebrating the confirmation that there will always be something to laugh about – in spite of 2018.
On page 1 of 365, I didn’t swear to make drastic changes in my life. I swore once again to live life to the full and to hope that I can keep on narrowly missing the cracks. But when I do fall ass over tits into one of them, I promised myself to go out with a bang.
The red cabbage is out of the oven to the somewhat predictable retching noises from NC – proof that she is a rubbish vegetarian. The presents are wrapped and under the tree – apart from mine, which I have no doubt will be remembered sometime between the closing credits of Elf and bedtime. And the Princess thinks that I haven’t noticed the number of gingerbread biscuits she has snuck from our mouths.
I’m freaking that the turkey won’t be defrosted in time or that I’ve forgotten something major from the list of what I am contributing tomorrow – even though it feels like I’ve done a supermarket sweep of the Coles’ shelves every day of this month. I’m worried that Kurt will forget that tomorrow is the big day and that I need my vacuum back, or that the Princess won’t fit into her outfit.
But we are as ready as we will ever be, or need to be. For we will be in the company of good friends – our surrogate family in Oz – who will forgive me if my turkey gives them listeria or if the pavlova cascades off the plate like a volcano because I didn’t want to put my glass down long enough to whip the cream to soft peaks.
We are lucky, but some are not.
A good friend from the UK posted this on her Facebook timeline a few days ago:
This time of year is not great for everyone, so my house is a safe zone. Coffee or tea can be on in minutes. Wine can be brought out as well. My table is non-judgmental. Any family or friend who needs to chat, eat or drink is welcome. We can talk, share a laugh, a cry, or just listen. If you’re hungry, I’ll feed you. I will always do my best to be available… you are always welcome!! This is an old-school value that has been lost to technology…a text, Facetime, gif or emoji is NOT the equivalent. I’m hoping that at least one friend copies this and posts it if you feel the same. I just did from another friend. Merry Christmas!
Likewise, there’s always room at our table should you find yourself alone on Christmas Day on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.
I’ll save the New Year’s reflections and aspirations for 2019 for once the Christmas craziness has died down and I’ve reduced my medication back to its normal dosage. It will give me something to do in that scary vacuum of too much over-thinking time between Christmas and New Year.
But until then, thanks for reading, and a Happy Christmas to everyone!
BTW: How do you defrost a turkey quickly? Asking for a friend.
So, this year’s Christmas party is done and dusted. More than thirty of us sweltered under the deck on what felt like the hottest day of the past month – as ordained by climate change or whichever God seems to take such personal pleasure out of fucking up my life as often as possible.
And yet, other than NC’s comments about how my plastic glasses were killing turtles, the permanent gush of sweat dribbling down my back, the red punch stains down my new silk lounge pants, the soggy lettuce in the mini prawn cocktails, the coriander I bought instead of mint, or (as per usual), my inability to remember to cook up the bulk of the frozen savory appetizers after a few glasses of aforementioned punch, all went surprisingly well.
I’ve decided that along with Michael Buble’s Christmas songs on repeat, watching the expressions on the faces of kids eating olives for the first time and Amaretto mince pies, a good Christmas punch is an absolute necessity for a Christmas party. And once our core group of 50-somethings had nervously sniffed our version, got to grips with their (justified) fears about what was in it, (because of work the next day etc), it didn’t take long until we found ourselves on a community mission to finish all eighteen litres of the devilish stuff.
The old man – who knocks up a mean Sangria for each birthday party – tried out a new punch recipe this year – The Berry Christmas Punch from Taste. And because it’s Christmas and the season for giving, and it received such a wealth of slurred compliments (I think), I thought I’d gift it to you.
BERRY CHRISTMAS PUNCH (6 Servings)
1.5 litres of raspberry/cranberry juice, well-chilled
2 x 187ml Sparkling wine, well-chilled
1/2 cup of Cointreau
1/4 cup of fresh mint leaves
Pour the cranberry juice, sparkling wine and Cointreau into punch bowl. Use your hands to squeeze some of the juice from the limes into the punch. Stir to combine. Add the squeezed limes to the punch.
Add the strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and mint leaves.
FYI, a few changes we made from the original recipe: we used cranberry juice and a bottle of processed lime juice for $2 in place of the 12 limes at $1.50 each – WTF? Also, there was no mint in our version, for obvious reasons.
It was that time of year again last weekend. The family holiday 2018 had spun back around with all the promise of a mammogram.
Admittedly, the word “holiday” is somewhat of an exaggeration.
The kids will attest to the fact that the word “holiday” is something of an exaggeration. This year – at the old man’s suggestion – our family fun was curtailed to a long weekend, with budget, time off work (he works for himself, from home) and our sanity, cited as his main reasons behind the decision. I imagine, however, that he may also have based the decision on the greater mathematical probability of the four of us walking away from this trip unscathed with only a 48hr window of dysfunction.
A distraction would keep us from straying into dangerous territories.
It was decided that an active holiday would be a better fit this year. We agreed that a distraction would keep us from straying into the dangerous territories of searching questions and judgments – the common ones being, how we ruined the kids’ childhood, which of them is our favorite, were they adopted, and how much we intend to leave them in the will? So, we booked a hotel in The Hunter Valley – a wine-tasting region, about two and a half hours from Sydney which was close enough to evacuate at short notice and removed any possibility of Kurt projectile vomiting on a flight full of unsuspecting travelers, as per Bali ’09.
Acclimatizing your kids to the “wine cures all problems” philosophy of life is one holiday choice.
I should point out that in acclimatizing our kids to the “wine cures all problems” philosophy of life, I am not looking for a Parent of the Year award anytime soon. I should also mention that our kids are 21 and 24, respectively.
I had been elected to share a room with Kurt to give the four of us a better chance of sleep – because I snore and he never sleeps anyway – but within two minutes of us downing weapons for the night, he had migrated to the sofa bed and the old man was begging to come back into my bed. Apparently, NC was noisily updating a climate model in her sleep.
The priority of any holiday has to be the hotel breakfast.
Truth be told, the real priority of the two days had less to do with wine and much more to do with the hotel breakfast. The three of us have been on best behavior over the past few weeks, out of fear that the old man might pull the plug on such an extravagance and eating strategy had to be discussed furtively. However, it was discussed at length, down to the final detail of who would secrete the miniature croissants and Vegemite pots back into the room. Needless to say, Kurt was elected for this task, on the basis of his natural talent for testing the law. And apart from cold bacon – the downside of strolling into breakfast five minutes before the buffet closed – breakfast was a resounding success.
Kurt was elected to steal extra croissants from the breakfast room, on the basis of his criminal record.
Indeed, we ate and drank well, which is what holidays are all about, even though dinners turned out to be almost as interesting as musical bedrooms what with NC being a vegetarian, my attempt at dairy-free (this week), the old man’s passion for burgers, and Kurt’s metabolism, which relies on a minimum of three bowls of Aldi’s Chocolate Pillows per day or it shuts down.
We have developed a newfound maturity as a family.
It turns out that we are developing a newfound maturity as a family, and a compromise was found. ie. we ignored the fact that NC is a vegetarian.
Entertaining is all well and good as long as your guests know their place…which is not in the kitchen.
I’m not certain if the protocol (in terms of entertaining) has changed in the UK since we left thirteen years ago – a time in our life when our social life was constrained by the needs of young children, hence fulfilled by a monthly rotation of dinner parties with roughly the same people – but I quite liked the unwritten rules of ownership when it came to the distinction between guest and host.
In those days, the onus on guests was to bring flowers, booze, and interesting conversation, and the responsibility of the host was to provide everything else. Admittedly, if you weren’t Donna Hay, that premise did add some pressure, but what kept you going as you marinated the Coq Au Vin in your tears, devilled your eggs, and began your relationship with Valium, was the knowledge that all your hard work would be recompensed by four of five reciprocal dinner invitations, where you could be the one stuck to your seat, getting lairy, and talking about stuff that only comes out of your mouth after a bottle of fortified wine.
Indeed, the only time you relaxed the rules was towards the end of the evening, when Mrs. Perfect came into the kitchen and offered to clear up, releasing you from your servitude to pop out to the back garden for a furtive joint.
Social etiquette is a little different in Australia. For a start, people offer to bring food with them. And when I say “food”, I don’t mean that moldy piece of Cheddar that’s sat in the fridge since Christmas with a few Aldi olives. They bring plates of the type of gourmet food that wouldn’t look out of place on a Heston Blumenthal menu.
And while that generosity lifts the burden of the host to provide all three courses and canapes, it also adds more pressure to the quality of the food that you are serving.
The other differences are – and this may have something to do with the open-plan style of the homes here – there is more of a hands-on vibe, where guests mill around the kitchen offering assistance and trying to get involved, which makes it much harder to conceal what I like to call my natural cooking disasters.
And then there’s that new breed of men that like to cook and make your mother’s tried and tested home cooking recipes appear amateurish. Personally-speaking, there’s nothing more intimidating to me than a man who knows his way around a sous-vide and who brings his latest cooking appliance with him to knock up the appetizers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that men are starting to take on their share of domesticity, but I’d prefer to see more of them voluntarily clean the toilets beforehand than show off their version of the “Snow Egg.”
And all this camaraderie in the kitchen means that you have to clean it properly, ahead of the event, because people will be in your kitchen. That caked potato on the roof of the microwave (since the time it exploded) and all those tiny scraps of food that inhabit the cutlery drawer (because your dishwasher is still going after twenty years), have to go. You even have to wipe down the door fronts – not exactly what you bargained for when you had that crazy idea of a relaxing lunch.
It was my birthday yesterday. In some ways, it’s hard to believe that I am now 53, in others, it feels like it has taken me bloody ages to get here. The most important part, I suppose, is that where I am, feels right.
The kids and a good bunch of friends came over for a late lunch; twelve of us squeezed around a makeshift table in our living room due to the unseasonable weather outside.
Girlfriends often ask me why I don’t just book a table at a restaurant to celebrate my birthday, but I’ve always loved the idea of a long table of ‘family’ like they do in the Mediterranean, enjoying good food, wine, and banter, with no rush to be anywhere else.
The old man knocked up his Sangria – somewhat of a tradition now – and each couple brought along a plate of food – tapas-style this year. Spanish meatballs, spicy lamb cutlets, prawns, and salads were washed down with cheese, two delicious homemade Spanish tarts and several (!) bottles of red wine.
I felt very lucky. It was a very special day, the sort that I do less frequently now that I no longer need the validation of people constantly around me like when I was younger.
My life is much more about JOMO (Joy of missing out) than FOMO (fear of missing out) these days, most likely because I feel more comfortable with who I am and how I manage whatever time I have left.
In my twenties and thirties, we entertained a lot, much to the old man’s horror. In fact, that insatiable need for acceptance pushed our relationship the closest to a fracture, until we found a compromise. Inevitable, as a Leo, I love to be the center of attention – as long as it’s on my terms with people I’m comfortable with. But if I’m being brutally honest, those gatherings were about something more than simply whipping my flowing mane around, they were about boosting my self-esteem and fuelling my ego.
Sometimes, they were necessary. Itchy feet precluded us from ever settling anywhere for too long. In fact, the old man often jokes that as soon as I start to make too many friends -squeezing him out of his comfort zone – I force him to consider the next move. So, we were never the couple at the top of the guest list. We had to work hard for acceptance; to keep reminding people who we were. Throw some social anxiety into the equation – and my semi-permanent resting bitchface – and sometimes it felt like an ongoing battle to be included.
FOMO is normally associated with Millennials as they are thrust into the competitive, adult world of social and professional ladder climbing under the spotlight of social media. But at some point in our lives – once we come to terms with what we have, find some peace within ourselves and discover the glaring truth that only a few things REALLY matter – we enter our JOMO phase.
JOMO means different things to different people, but for me, it means not worrying if I am in bed by 9 pm on holiday or on a Saturday night when everyone else is out partying; it means not going on that mega trip of Europe because everyone else is doing it, and it means being strong enough to say no. It means looking forward to getting into my PJs by 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, Maltesers on my lap, in front of a good movie.
I’m sure that JOMO has something to do with my body slowing down. Or perhaps, it is simply about feeling more comfortable in that body, but for me, it is also about learning to prioritize my own needs again and my time, which becomes more precious by the day. It is about listening to what I need, rather than trying to please everyone else.
A couple of girlfriends and I have had a lunch planned in the diary for a while. It is a lunch without husbands, none of us are driving, and we are going to a hang-out typically patronized by millennials ie. the age of our children.
I can only compare the anticipation of the event to Christmas Eve as a child or the end of Trump’s presidency, even though the three of us are aware of the likelihood of glugging jugs of water rather than Sangria by the main course, and crashing and burning by dessert.
I like to envisage ending the day in some club for the over-aged, dancing the night away to Abba, in full view of a group of hot surfer types that are into vintage. We’ve been sending gifs to each other of women drinking and getting all lairy, which I know is childish and irresponsible, but which I see as an obvious sign that we need to let our grey hair down. It is obvious that we miss the good old days when we believed that we were immortal and our main purpose in life was to get shit-faced as often as possible. I should point out that all of us are from the UK, so I blame the culture.
But in truth, we’re all terrified. These days, our hangovers compete with the transition stage in childbirth, and then there’s the shame of being seen as prime examples of middle-aged women with a drinking problem and the prohibitive cost of drinking out – explain to me how cocktails can cost $16? There’s also the worry about getting public transport home and needing to wee, or that we might not make it home in time for Masterchef.
I know that some of you will not agree with this admission, and let me assure you that I would like to be the type of responsible middle-aged woman that has slowed down her drinking in consideration of her health, or because I am a role model to my children. However, occasionally, I think FUCK IT! the world might end tomorrow. And when it doesn’t, I hide in shame for weeks.
If you find yourself in Manly tomorrow, please don’t judge us.
I’ve written a lot of posts about this topic in the past because let’s face it, girls, on a scale of stuff that still turns us on in middle age, (where sex with our husbands/partners is at one), food has to be at least a ten. The struggle is real. And to my horror, I recently discovered that there is sugar in fruit and wine – which is a bit rude, frankly – and a fact that has made rather a mockery of just about everything I have aspired to achieve over the past few years in my war on the muffin top.
The good news (this week) is that two glasses of red wine before bedtime is now good for us, according to the fat-busting scientists, which must mean that for those that are partial to a few more than two (due to mental health issues, say), that makes them virtually Roger Federer.
I gave up on traditional diets a long time ago, mainly because they don’t work, I can’t stick to them and they make me very dull and bad-tempered with a hunger only seen in Labradors and an irrational fixation on the breadbasket.
Fortunately, I am a moderation kind of girl, (Kettle Chips and cheese excluded – OBVS) and although I don’t deny myself any food groups really – except octopus because WTF and legs – I like to think that I choose wisely and healthily. I also try to balance my out my diet using a cutting-edge, self-developed point system that I stole from Weightwatchers designed for myself, that seems to work for me… sometimes – as in I don’t get the kind of hunger where all I can think about is eating other people’s leftovers in cafes and I can maintain focus on a sensible health target at this stage of my life – to maintain my drinking goals and weight at the same time.
Here are some of my tips:
If I have yogurt for brekkie, I won’t touch dairy for the rest of the day until my Snickers smoothie at bedtime.
If I blow out seriously on carbs, I limit myself to less than a bottle of wine that evening.
If I’ve starved myself with a steak and blue cheese salad for lunch, denied myself my morning tea toast and my afternoon snack of crackers and hummus, I allow myself an all-you-can-eat/all-you-can-drink week.
I only eat carbs when I’m hormonal, pre-menstrual, peri-menopausal, feeling fat, feeling unloved, feeling hungry, the kids hate me, or with wine.
You see – all pretty straightforward really. But let’s be honest, we all have those really shitty years when there’s been nothing on telly but sport for months, you’re fifty-two and still getting acne or your local restaurants decide to allow babies, and it’s hard to be virtuous all the time. Those days when all you want to do is crawl into bed with Pods on toast and an Amaretto on ice. And on those occasions – because remember, I said it’s about balance – I increase my exercise by searching out the furthest pub on Google maps and walking there AND BACK.
We’re drawing to the end of those tricky days between Christmas and New Year, where no one really knows what the fuck to do with themselves apart from drink alcohol at odd times of the day and gorge on left-overs.
It has been stinky-hot here in Sydney, but at least we’ve had the coolness of the ocean to cure our hangovers and to waste the hours between breakfast and the first mid-morning drink. There are no rules during these final hours of festivity, and as each day crawls closer to the New Year and the promise of its heinous list of resolutions – typically of sobriety – my body is trying to get as much alcohol into its system as possible in preparation for the stoicism of January – that usually lasts around two days.
This is the first New Year where I’m proud to admit that I will probably be in bed before 12pm. I no longer feel that pressure to keep up with The Jones’ in most aspects of my middle-aged life. Finally, I am my own person and I do what I want to do – unless the old man disagrees – and tonight we will meet like-minded friends for dinner, drag ourselves down to the water to watch the 9pm fireworks with the mums and bubs, and then my best intentions will no doubt fly out of the window and I’ll be found, washed up on Manly beach tomorrow morning, with no memory of the night before.
I have relaxed these past few days, with long walks and long dinners, in the company of gorgeous friends and family – a good time to reflect on exactly how much my liver can withstand. Indeed, when walking back from the beach the other day, I experienced one of those rare moments of total happiness, and if no one had been around and I could actually lift my legs off the ground without pulling a muscle, I might have jumped for joy – a serenity that I hope had less to do with the alcohol in my veins and rather more to do with where I find myself in my life right now. Then a hornet flew out of no-where and bit me on the leg – a reminder to embrace those moments fully and seize the day. I am still in pain.
Thank you to my loyal followers who have shared their own thoughts on the absurdity of life with me, or made kind comments about my writing that incentivize me to keep churning out this drivel ad nauseam.
Thank you to my family for keeping my feet on the ground and reminding me that life is about living in the here and now and about taking risks, and that the rough molds us as much as the smooth.
Happy New Year, everyone! May 2018 bring you love, happiness, good health and an abundance of belly laughter.
It appears that all of those conversations I had with the kids before Christmas about WHAT NOT TO DO when Grandad is here, fell on deaf ears. They didn’t mention The Ashes, but when the middle-aged tribe is heavily outnumbered by Millennials, things don’t always go to plan – and just saying kids, Vodka is not an appropriate Secret Santa gift.
As per its marketing, Vodka does ensure absolute insanity, which was somewhat at odds with the original concept in my head of a sophisticated Australian Christmas that my father might even compare one day to the Harrods-style Christmas he is accustomed to in Chelsea.
The day started out with all the promise of a resounding success. The weather was grey – good news when you have a table laid for sixteen on a garden deck that reaches the temperature of Mars the minute the thermometer exceeds twenty-four degrees; we managed to locate batteries for every cheap and nasty gadget that we didn’t realise required batteries; every new item of clothing fitted; the old man got over the fact that I had put away his Christmas polo shirt in his collarless-shirt pile and – Thank you, God – Kurt’s Google Home actually worked, saving it from the fate of his PS2 a few years back, which was thrown unceremoniously through the window with a ‘this is crap!’
Hell, I even remembered to pick up the turkey from Coles, and the dress I bought for the day – which I couldn’t bear to look at again until I’d squeezed my who-ate-all-the-mince-pies body into it five minutes before kick-off – looked okay.
Even the bacon on my Ikea pigs-in-blankets – home-assembled this year because some selfish bitch wiped out all stocks at our local Coles – remained intact after the old man forgot he’d already put them on the bbq.
Needless to say, there were a few minor casualties. I did discover the cherries frozen to the back of the fridge once everyone had left, and after an intensive first two courses with a seating plan as flammable as Christmas lunch with Trump and Obama, we gave up on formal dining and ate dessert and cheese off our laps, more camper-style than Chelsea-style.
And then the Millennials decided that Charades and Monopoly are a bit Britney Spears and opened the Vodka, after which, I felt the need to avert my eyes each time my father looked in my direction.
Let’s just say that neither Michael Buble nor any other Christmas festivity in the street could compete with the verbal Olympics of our ten twenty-something spawn egging each other on with ‘Down! Down! Down!’ at the end of the garden, as their parents looked on proudly.
And the Vodka shots were superseded by a highly disorganized bout of garden wrestling, which, although I tried to convince my father was an Aussie Christmas tradition, I don’t think he believed. Fortunately, the girl-on-girl wrestling got the quickly fading middle-aged male wrinklies out of their chairs – because there was no cricket to watch, apparently.
We lit the pudding without causing a bushfire, had just enough wine to sate the needs of fifteen alcoholics and I even remembered the coffee and chocolates in my drunken haze. By 10pm, aforementioned Millennials had been blackmailed into sleeping it off in front of Love Actually – OR ELSE! – while we, their sloshed, perfect role-models, put the world to rights.