The 25 Best Feel-Good Movies For Lazy Weekends

Are you genuinely still social-distancing?

Same Kind Of Different As Me movie poster with four of the cast.
Same Kind Of Different As Me Movie Poster

Or are you just socially anxious like me, and pretending you still have to?

If so, let me plan out next weekend for you because Angela at Heritage Films has asked me to give a shout-out for this wonderful, feel-good movie starring Renee Zellweger that they are premiering online between the 29th and 31st May. It’s called “Same Kind Of Different As Me,” and for each ticket sold (drum roll) a donation will be made to the Salvation Army and its Red Shield Appeal, who have been hit really hard this year.

Check out the movie trailer here:

A bit about the movie…

Ron Hall, played by Greg Kinnear in the movie, wrote the original story of “Same Kind Of Different As Me” – about a couple, whose lives change forever when they develop an unlikely friendship with Denver Moore, a homeless man – and sales from it have raised over $100,000 towards homelessness. As soon as Angela described it as “a true, inspirational story about a woman who transforms a city with kindness,” I knew it would be right up the street of a feel-good movie aficionado like me…especially now, during these dark, COVID times.

Who hasn’t loved Renee Zellweger since she dished up blue soup in Bridget Jones?

Evidently, Angela knew that flattery would get her everywhere (when she described me as a blogger with compassion in her pitch to me), but there are other (less shallow) reasons I want to endorse this movie premiere. Firstly, there are those massively important donations to The Salvation Army who “leave no-one in need” – and I know from personal experience how easy it is for any of us to suddenly find ourselves in a position of dependency on awesome charities such as these – and secondly, this is not just any old movie, it is a story with heart and soul, with an amazing cast, and I think most of us could do with a little of that right now.

Did You Know That Ugly-Crying Actually Enhances Your Mood?

This movie is guaranteed to release all those pent-up emotions of the last two months – which is a good thing because (interesting fact) a big, ugly cry actually ENHANCES your mood. And, frankly, it sounds like a) the perfect antidote to the Corona blues and b) the ultimate way to waste a lazy weekend afternoon for the professional couch potatoes among us.

But if those aren’t big enough incentives, remember that feel-good stories like these force us to think about how lucky we are – a really important reminder for those of us fortunate enough to come out of COVID-19 relatively unscathed.

Anything that gives us pause for thought and time to reflect on our priorities is a good thing, right?

AND FINALLY, THE BEST BIT. With your invitation to watch this movie, you are ALSO invited to the pre-movie program which includes interviews with the stars and the author, i.e. the perfect excuse to put on your glad rags for the first time (in what feels like a decade) and crack open a bottle of bubbly.

You can buy your movie pass HERE, and once you receive it you’ll get 48hrs to complete the movie and two weeks to start it.

And remember, the MAIN reason I’m giving you permission to take an afternoon off is because single and family movie passes make a direct donation to this year’s RED SHIELD APPEAL.

Cast of Four Weddings And A Funeral
Four Weddings And A funeral movie poster

And while I’m on the subject of THE BEST FEEL-GOOD MOVIES, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few of my own. I’m not an idiot, so I realise that anyone worth their salted popcorn (when it comes to tearjerkers) will have seen most of these already, but if you haven’t, hit up a box of Maltesers, get out the blankets and give them a shot.

Enjoy!

  1. The Green Mile – Starring Sandra Bullock, the queen of feel-good movies.

2. When Harry Met Sally – Who hasn’t been in the situation this couple finds themselves in “the morning after”? Harry’s expression says it all. It always reminds me of the look on the old man’s face the morning after we (drunkenly) decided to try for a baby.

3. Chocolat – Anything French is “HOT AF!” I would definitely turn for Juliette Binoche.

4. Love Actually – So yeah, in terms of political correctness, this movie hasn’t aged the best, but who can forget the magic of that wedding, THAT funeral, or the brutal bedroom scene caused by Snape’s infidelity.

5. Notting Hill – The fairytale. “I’m just a boy, standing in front of a girl, asking him to love her.”

6. Steel Magnolias – The best story about friendship. Hankies a must.

7. Ten Things I Hate About You – Heath Ledger. *Sob*

8. Pride and Prejudice – Where Mr Darcy’s awkwardness is almost as sexy as a man carrying a baby.

9. Four Weddings And A Funeral – This movie always reminds me of the year of our wedding, minus the funeral. So many memories, so embarrassingly nineties.

10. My Big Fat Greek Wedding – John Corbett at his sexiest. We learnt what a bunt was and we’ll never say I.A.N the same way again.

11. Forrest Gump – An epic journey of kindness.

12. The Shawshank Redemption – The best bromance.

14. The Holiday – Cutest cottage, kid, and dad.

13. Bridget Jones Diary – The most accurate depiction of those angst-ridden years of our late-twenties and early-thirties. The best song to sing with a hairbrush.

15. Grease – The first movie I saw at the cinema with friends.

16. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – The subtle introduction of Leonardo to the world.

17. Silver Linings Playbook – The most romantic take on love with mental illness.

18. Dead Poets Society – Robin Williams “Oh captain, my captain…’

19. Bend It Like Beckham – An inspirational tale for young girls everywhere.

20. My Left Foot – The courage and determination of Christy Brown.

21. The Full Monty – Finally, some titillation for the ladies.

22. Bridesmaids – Too many hysterical moments in this movie to mention, but…every bride’s worst nightmare has to be a bad case of diarrhoea in your wedding dress.

23. The Untouchables – A mesmerising story of friendship and hope.

24. The Body Guard/Field Of Dreams/Dances With Wolves – Something for everyone. Who knew that Kevin Costner was such a feel-good film maker?

25. Benny And Joon – A beautiful film about love and “difference”.

Any movies I need to add to my list?

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It’s Okay To Man-Hug

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Photo by Thiago Barletta on Unsplash

We caught up with some friends at the weekend and when the husband and the old man did that awkward shuffle as they greeted each other, our male friend launched into the story of how he had tried to hug his elderly father once, who froze and brushed it off.

‘I’m not much of a man-hugger,’ he admitted to him.

‘But did you like it?’ my friend pushed.

‘It was surprisingly quite nice,’ his dad responded.

What a truly sad world we live in when there are men out there that have never been hugged by their fathers, sons or close friends?

And then, we wonder why they are so emotionally ill-equipped.

Upon further discussion, it turns out that there are rules of etiquette when it comes to man-hugging. Both the old man and our friend agreed that while they hug their inner circle of close friends, they don’t hug the next tier of their friendship group.

‘But I hug everyone,’ I admitted, because I think that women do, in general, once they’ve met once or twice.

But the boys were adamant that it was only their tight circle of friends that got the special treatment. So – obviously – we made them man-hug on the spot, in front of us, which was when we witnessed something truly beautiful happen.

Of course, I’m generalising here. I’m sure that some men are massive huggers, but there is still that stigma associated with men hugging men.

In her book, Boys Will Be Boys, Clementine Ford claims it has to do with the stigma of what the show of affection implied in the past, and the need to prove “compulsive heterosexuality” – one of the issues of “toxic masculinity”.

And she’s right. If we don’t teach our boys how to share respectful, caring relationships with each other, how can we expect them to do the same with women?

She says: “It breaks my heart to know that men – and young men especially – are conditioned against embracing the pleasures of a physically-expressed platonic love for each other for fear that the authenticity of their man-hood may be challenged.”

So let’s change that right now. Any men out there – give your father a big, fat man-hug the next time you see him. And fathers – remember to hug your sons as well as your daughters. Finally, men – for God’s sake, hug your goddamn friends. It’s not a sign that you’re weak or that you fancy them, it’s a sign that you value them.

A Guest’s Place Is Not In The Kitchen

Entertaining is all well and good as long as your guests know their place…which is not in the kitchen.

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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.

Sometimes, A Good Chinwag With People That Really Know You Is All The Therapy You Need

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Bonding with someone is ” Like sharing an invisible stream of consciousness with each other.” Those are the powerful words of Zat Rana in his piece The Subtle Art Of Connecting With Anyone on Medium.”

My connection to others has always provided me with the best therapy. I’m needy emotionally. I might even go as far as to admit that I’m emotionally unintelligent. I need the validation of others that I’m an ok person.

And those connections have become particularly pertinent for me recently as I plan a twelve-day visit back to the UK for the two-yearly family summit, when, once again, I find myself caught up in the guilt and inner turmoil of who I can’t see this time.

Unless you’ve done this migration thing, and only return periodically to your homeland as The Prodigal Child/sibling/niece/aunt or friend, you have no idea of the pressure these trips cause, and the painful balancing act between offending old friends and family duty.

Just prior to this trip – thirteen years since my defection – I had come to accept that family had to be my priority moving forward. Validation comes at a price, and it’s exhausting to travel the country for twelve days in search of it, no matter how needy I am. And yet, as much as I know that (practically-speaking) I should prioritize “blood” and downplay the importance of the transient friendships I’ve made during my journey through life, there is a culture and a history with old friends that it is impossible to replicate.

The other problem is, that the older I get, the more I veer towards an embarrassing need for nostalgia.

I could have booked a longer stay, I suppose. But then, there are work commitments to think about, there’s “life”, there’s the discomfort of my dad’s sofa bed and the health of my liver. Because, drinking, eating and talking your way through twelve days takes a toll  – particularly in view of the niggling doubt about what the point of it all is.

And yet, there is a point, because many of these people are the missing pieces of mine and the old man’s life puzzle. They are the people that shaped who I am; wiped away my tears, poured Champagne down my throat when I most needed it and made me laugh until I peed myself.

And this particular trip is particularly poignant because it has been driven by family illness, by death, anxiety and the underlying knowledge that none of us is getting any younger. With the looming presence of a rather nasty weakness on my mother’s side in the “ticker” department, it’s not a duty call exactly, but it is an ‘in case I miss you next time’ type of visit.

Without catastrophizing – which I suspect I’m wont to do – it might really be “goodbye.” Which is why I want to say my goodbyes to everyone; not just the ones that fit in with my ridiculously restricted itinerary. And let’s be honest: a good chinwag with people that have shared your “culture” and your history is sometimes all the therapy you need to take you through the next stage of life.

This Birthday, JOMO Replaced FOMO

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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 Postmortem Of Twenty-Five Years Of Marriage

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As we hurtle towards our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary – celebrations and condolences for which are still under negotiation – it seems to me that the timing couldn’t be more perfect for a postmortem of our relationship.

 

I’ll be honest with you, as the product of divorced parents, I never expected our marriage to last, and like many couples in long-term relationships, we have experienced our share of highs and lows. Particularly this year. Living TOGETHER, and working from home TOGETHER, have inevitably created pressure points that at times have pushed us closer to our own re-enactment of the last scene in “The Notebook”.

 

And yet, here we are, still breathing, still together, together forever – words he taunts me with when I’m grumpy – as we morph into the middle-aged stereotypes we always denied we’d become. He is the archetypal grumpy old man who shouts at the television, wears socks with sandals, and feels no guilt about excusing himself from social gatherings. I am the highly-strung, middle-aged other half, secretly more suited to life as Betty Draper, in spite of my feminist idealism. 

 

My father describes our marriage as a life sentence, and sometimes, (as some of you will agree), it feels like it. But although marriage doesn’t get any easier, the ageing process does have a clever way of smoothing over cracks that in the past we might have left exposed. And perhaps, as well, both of us feel like we’ve passed the point of no return in our relationship. The idea of intimacy with anyone else is terrifying, we are comfortable with our silences, and unapologetic about the deterioration in our physical standards.

 

Our marriage has enriched and evolved like a fine wine. Not like those schmaltzy, finger-down-your-throat senior love matches depicted in British movies – usually set in India – no, we are more Jerry and Margo Leadbetter from “The Good Life” or Ethel and Norman Thayer from “On Golden Pond”. We have traded the fireworks for a resigned acceptance of how we should behave at our age, although secretly we keep our swords sharpened.

 

When he is loving life, I hate it. When I’m chill, he’s a stress ball. While he condemns me through his silence, I am a spitting, yapping Rottweiler. While he rarely criticizes me, I prepare a review of him each morning to contemplate throughout his day – although I have noticed some underground attempts to alter that status quo, demonstrating a worm-turning bravery in middle age that he concealed from me as a young man.

 

The other day he accused me of not putting the lid back on the toothpaste.

 

‘What lid?’ I countered, bristling as I frantically racked the wine-addled cells of my brain for a visual of our bathroom vanity and the scrunched up toothpaste tube.

 

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PETTY – I’m sure you will agree. And yet, pettiness evolves with marriage in the same way that deep love and respect do, and so: his refusal to refill the oats container, the fact that he only empties the recycling box once it has overflowed and the way he asks me what’s for dinner the day before – a cardinal sin in the universally accepted rules of marriage – have all been duly noted, and will be used in retribution, sometime in the future.

 

But he’s my best mate. I know what he’s going to say before he says it; he has steered me through more dark tunnels than I can remember, forcing his sweaty hand into mine exactly when I’ve needed it. He makes me laugh when I am determined not to, and his impression of Miguel Maestre from The Living Room has to be seen to be believed.

 

Admittedly, his close relationship with the dog is bordering on seedy, he has rarely bought me flowers, can’t cook for toffee, and is useless when it comes to DIY. And yet he can put a smile on my face even when storms rage around us.

 

The set of scales has always wavered precariously in our marriage, yet somehow, it always finds its balance in the end.

Letting Go Of The Shit In Your Life

NC and her friends had a sisterhood meeting the other night. She and her tight band of millennial girlfriends, who have recently experienced a spate of more trials than tribulations in their journeys through young adulthood, decided they needed an intervention. After a rough few weeks of new jobs, new-people stresses, cockroach infestations, the cost of avocados and Ubers, men issues…and men issues, they decided to exorcise their demons by sacrificing the drunk backpacker passed out on the floor beneath them and having a big girlie overshare.

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Now I know that I do drop the ‘E’ word and ‘A’ words (entitlement and avocado) in connection to my millennial children quite often on this site, but perhaps the world from their perspective doesn’t look quite as rosy as I would like to believe.

 

Obviously, I have not been made privy to what evolved from the girls’ session, although I remain confident that give my daughter a week, a slap-up meal at our local Japanese and a month’s supply of vegetarian lasagne, her loyalty will crack like a walnut. But what I do know is, each girl wrote down four toxic things that they want to remove from their lives on a piece of paper and then they burnt them ceremoniously in a dish – followed by ten minutes of panic when they remembered about the recent fire ban in NSW.

 

And what I have been given permission to reveal is that number one on NC’s agenda was PTSD – and no, I haven’t screwed her up as well as my son (not that much, anyway) – where the acronym stands for Pre Traumatic Stress Disorder, and relates to her generation’s fear for Gen Y’s future in terms of how we are killing each other and the planet, climate change, the increasing gap between rich and poor etc. There is no doubt in my mind that relationships, men, and sexism would have also been on her list –  particularly as she was still recovering from her company’s selection of a man to lead their IWD conference that week – which may explain the smoking Ken doll and pins I found in her bag the next morning.

 

Anyway, our debrief the following morning made me think about two things: what I would have ejected from my life at the age of twenty-three, and what I would lob in the bin right now, at the age of fifty-something.

 

Personally, I have few memories of my early twenties other than the consumption of vast amounts of alcohol and cigarettes; dependencies that have obviously left their mark in terms of the culling of my brain cells. I didn’t take life too seriously back then, other than donating my time to a few coin collections for the university Rag Society, making tea for the vegan student militants camping outside McDonald’s (because their leader was pretty hot), attending the odd lecture (because the lecturer was pretty hot), and watching various renditions of Welsh poetry (because the poet was pretty hot). In truth, I was pretty shallow and hedonistic back in the day. And in hindsight, perhaps if I’d recognized those unresolved grief issues rooted in my addictions, sober me might have found more time and energy to change the world and bemoan the price of avocados.

 

And what shit would I let go of, today?

 

My anxiety, which stops me doing so many things that I know I would enjoy.

My lack of self-belief that is linked to the anxiety that stops me doing those things I know I would enjoy.

 

Hmmm.

 

My box of regrets, most of which are so embarrassingly first world and entitled: the if onlys seated in family issues, the houses we lost money on, the careers and businesses that never took off, the smoking when I knew the risks…

 

And finally… the men who think they believe in equality, call themselves feminists, swear blind they’d never stand in the way,  hurt or discriminate against them, and yet whose behaviors demonstrate they clearly have no fucking clue.

 

They’d be torched.

Can I Please Stop Drinking Now?

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.

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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.

Please, can I stop drinking now?

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Your Millennial’s Birthday In Style

In spite of Kim Jong-un’s very obvious intention to spoil all our fun, Saturday marked the end of the last birthday “event” in our house for this year, as well as the end of winter and its excuse for visible leg hair. girl-438133_1920

 

It was NC’s 23rd birthday “event” and she chose to mark its Grand Finale with an intimate gathering of close friends at our place. You see, we don’t celebrate a birth “day” in our house, we have full-on festivals that usually last a minimum of two weeks or until the old man puts the birthday cards in the bin. It is a tradition passed down by my mum, who, even when the Bailiffs were knocking at the door, celebrated birthdays and Christmas in style. Once I got my head beyond the other tradition in our family – which is dying under forty – I decided it made sense to fully embrace her wisdom of making every year count.

 

With so little blood family here with whom to celebrate, the onus is on our little band of warriors to make our birthday “events” really special – difficult when you’re married to Scrooge – and those that have stood out in the past include NC’s seventeenth when she was too hungover to turn up to her own birthday lunch, and her twenty-first – which had a Marvel theme rather than the Cinderella theme I had anticipated, much to my private disappointment. It was relatively easy to return the pink ball gown back to Myer, but the cancellation of her dowry of two-for-one Simmonds to her Prince Charming – something Kurt seemed up for – was awkward.

 

Warm-up celebrations began two weeks ago and kicked off with a Bachie marathon, for which we fully intended to dress up in our cocktail dresses and sup on Champagne until we remembered that we don’t own cocktail dresses. Anyway, PJs are so much more comfortable than dresses especially as it was still winter here and as my brainiac daughter pointed out – Matty J couldn’t actually see us! Wine replaced Champagne because I suspect Kurt drank the only bottle of Champagne to last longer than a few hours in our house, that I thought was in the cupboard – a bottle the old man must have bought in a rare moment of madness prior to The Great Depression of 2015.

 

Then came the family celebration on the day itself – a meal out together where all our best intentions to be civil to one another for one night of the year ended in tears before the arrival of the chicken wings, negating one of NC’s best opportunities to moan about animal cruelty while we pretended to care. Kurt is usually the surprise guest at these meals because not even the promise of free nosh can tempt our son away from his bedroom and Breaking Bad these days.

 

Which led us to Saturday’s Millennial gathering – an intimate soiree of close friends, all twenty-something and gorgeous, for which the old man knocked up his now infamous Sangria and spent the remainder of the evening averting his eyes to breast spillage and feigning deafness during talk of penis size. Even Kurt was on form, breaking the family record for Sangria consumption without projectile vomiting.

 

Obviously, we have to conceal the full list of birthday events from the old man when all our birthdays coincide with the end of the financial year and it is a time of family mourning in our house. But between you and us, they included:

 

  • FULL access to the tv for once, for our marathon session of Bachie. This package included the predictability of hourly snipes from the old man about how we are supposed to be feminists – yawn! – while he pretended not to watch it. His refusal to get out ‘his guns’ so that we could pretend he was Matty J and objectify him was a disappointment – and frankly very un-British
  • A girls’ lunch of oysters and Sparkly prior to the birthday dinner
  • A shopping trip to buy an impulsive party outfit that neither of us will ever wear again
  • Pres, before the party pres
  • A full body makeover for each of us to include our leaving the house/end-of-winter leg shave. All hair will be donated to either the costume department of GOT for John Snow’s cape for Season 8, or my preference, a charity that turns it into hair extensions for those menstruating women or ones that have recently come out of a relationship, chopped all their hair off on impulse and look nothing like Charlene Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Cake-testing session
  • A visit to the hairdressers to become Daenerys Targaryen, because blondes definitely seem to have more fun
  • Hourly readings of the temperature of the Sangria for NC to record the impact of climate change on Spanish alcoholic beverages

 

 

 

 

 

Memories, Friendship and On The Move Again

downloadI might have mentioned that we’re about to embark upon our fourteenth house move. Reactions to the move have varied:  the Princess has begun twitching so I will need to up her anxiety medication, and she and Kurt rock on her bed together whenever I pack a box. The old man has locked himself inside his office until our move date.

 

We’re heading back to where we started our journey in Australia, back to a community, a slower pace of life and (hopefully) a slightly slower rent, which means we have more options to do as little as possible. It’s not quite the downsize I imagined a few months ago when we first made the plan and foolishly assumed that if we moved an hour out of the city, the kids wouldn’t be able to leave home fast enough – no, we’ll be moving to a smaller house with two more adults than we thought we’d have – in other words, a typically, logical Simmonds plan.

 

So, not a sea change or a downsize exactly, more a move away from the Big Smoke back to old habits, in the arms of old friends as we grow old together. The area is one of many parts of Australia nicknamed God’s Country – all equally justified – a small piece of paradise on the tip of a peninsula, with the sort of stunning coastal beauty of the landscape in Big Little Lies, if you saw the series. With beautiful beaches that have golden sands evolved from the sandstone rock that the water washes up upon, its quaint little towns are packed to the brim with home décor shops, cafes and wonderful restaurants, and the only sound on a quiet day is the clanging of the yacht masts in the breeze. 

 

Our oldest friends have stayed put, so it’s where our heart beats the strongest in this country we have adopted as home. In the seven years we lived in the area, I carved more meaningful memories than at any other time of my life. The beach does that for me.

 

To access paradise, you have to drive along a stunning, winding road around the side of rock, known locally at The Bends, and it is a local custom to celebrate events and good news such as weddings and birthdays, on personalized banners along the route. What you have to imagine, though, is how dangerous the stretch of road is by foot. Often busy with local and holiday traffic, with sharp drops down cliffs to the beach on one side, it’s not the sort of place you stop to take in the view or have a pee.

 

Several years ago, as we approached NC’s eighteenth-birthday, I tried almost everything in my power to cajole the old man to hang out some banners along the “road of death” to celebrate the occasion. Understandably, he wasn’t keen.  Neither of us is that impulsive type of parent prepared to flout the law for our daughter’s happiness, and we worried about being caught by the police, falling off the ladder, (necessary to climb the telegraph pole), and even writing the wrong words, hence scarring our child for life. In other words, we overthought it, (like most things), and eventually talked ourselves out of it like we do most decisions, apart from minor ones such as moving to the other side of the world with two kids in tow and no jobs.

 

It didn’t matter: we had other festivities organized and I knew that the last thing NC expected, (or perhaps wanted), was some awkward public declaration of her parents’ affection splattered for the world to see. Which was why it was such a shock, riding on the school bus on the morning of her birthday, for her to see first one banner, then another, then another, each engraved with her name, a big red heart and the number eighteen.

 

 

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Jaz and NC, still friends, and yes, Jaz is still crazy.

Now, I am certain that at no point did NC consider that we were responsible – which we weren’t, for reasons that are obvious.  And at no time either, did I think that the old man had manned the fuck up and climbed a ladder under the cover of darkness. In fact, it was NC’s best friend who donned crampons under cover of darkness and climbed those telegraph poles like a Ninja, risking life over limb, in a gesture of friendship that has become part of Simmonds folklore and symbolizes everything we have missed since our sabbatical down south.

 

 

‘Remember when Jaz put those signs up on the Bends?’ we still say, as incredulous as we were that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A (Sort of) Birth Story For Easter

I’ve been caught up in between worlds these last few weeks – the worlds of back pain, Easter chocolate and that of my characters, as I put my final touches to my manuscript. I’m not the best multi-tasker, so I find it difficult to tackle other writing projects when I’m so invested in these four people that are evolving daily.

 

But as the Easter holiday period wraps up, I know I owe you something – however trivial. So as this event marks a rebirth, I decided to mark my respects with the story of the birth of our third child. b15d2295e5b6a03d15d9ccd5ca0d13ef

 

I’d never had a dog as a child, although an assortment of pets – mad cats, fish and a tortoise that ran away, weren’t fit enough to survive in our house – which is why I always suspected that a dog might be one step too far in terms of responsibility. Added to which, I was highly anxious about them. I was that person who gagged when a friend’s dog jumped up at me – and they always did because they smelled the fear.

 

Two things changed my view. One was that the old man has always been an animal freak – far more relaxed in the company of dogs than our children – and as I watched his interactions with friends’ dogs over the years, and saw how they calmed him and diminished his stress levels, the idea became more appealing. The second reason was that I thought a pet, another being to love Kurt unconditionally and perhaps become his best friend, would help him feel better about himself.

 

The conception of The Princess was a long and arduous one. I did my research, changed my diet, took iron pills and went through other invasive medical interventions I still can’t talk about. And I’ll admit that at one point I began to waver in my decision…until my brother paid us a surprise visit in Sydney.

 

“Impulsivity” has a tendency to run through our family – rather like a sharp razor through the winter hair on my legs – so perhaps I shouldn’t have been that surprised when I mentioned the idea of the dog and he dragged me straight to the closest pet shop to pick NC and Kurt’s new sister – a female of the ‘oodle variety; the cutest and sleepiest.

 

I don’t think the old man ever believed I’d actually commit to the dog idea and so he was fairly indifferent to The Princess for those first few weeks. Obviously, she wasn’t the stereotype of what he considered to be “man’s best friend”, and I know he worried about turning up at the dog park on Saturday afternoons, beer in one hand and this blonde ball of fluff in the other, tethered to a shocking-pink lead. Yet she wormed her way into the rest of the family’s affections within minutes – the cute stack down the steps living room probably helped – and within days we were fighting over who would pick up her perfect, pint-sized poos – the ones that usually landed with stealth bomber accuracy on my brand new rugs.

 

She is has since reigned at the top of the pecking order, and each of us fight for her love and approval. She is the best spooner, the best hot water bottle in winter, the best therapist, vacuum cleaner and incentive for exercise. She is also great to dress up. Our main criteria for holidays homes now is that they are pet-friendly, and she drives shotgun all the way.

 

Training…not so much, although she will sit or lie down if we make it worth her while.

 

At the grand age of eight – which is fifty-six in dog years – and still spritely, she is often mistaken for a puppy (much to her disgust) – even though she is developing into a willful, middle-aged woman who gets crabby when she’s tired, is easily distracted, forgetful and rather partial to long naps with her dad most afternoons. So we have a lot in common. She tells us now when she’s had enough – a good lesson for Kurt, whose switch off button has always been temperamental.

 

And did I mention the best part about having a dog? It’s that they can talk. Over time, this lovable little mutt has developed a voice in our house, which is used (and abused), to say those things that we want to say to each other, but know we shouldn’t.

Not Another F..king Post About “Gratitude”…

gratitude-1251137_1280I realised that that I make the same long bloody list of resolutions each year and then persecute myself for being such an under-achiever when I don’t accomplish them.

 

Mia Freedman wrote a piece in Mamamia in the New Year about how last year she simplified the whole process of resolutions and instead picked one word to describe her intentions for the following year, and I’m stealing the idea.

 

Her chosen word was ‘create’, and was linked to personal career goals, such as writing a book, that she found she kept putting aside to concentrate on the needs of others.

 

So in a similar vein, my word for 2017 is going to be ‘wine’…I mean ”gratitude.”

 

I know what you’re thinking, ‘not another fucking “gratitude” post!’ as you reach for the sick bucket.

 

But I need to do this because I have a tendency to be a bit of a serial whiner (hence this blog) and that layer of negativity is beginning to enshroud me. And it’s a challenge, because it’s not easy being thankful when you’re as naturally cynical and anxious as I am and you’re passing through this whole middle age/menopause phase – which is a tricky transition and attempts to thwart any positivity and requires you to learn a whole new skill set, which can be difficult for anyone old enough to remember black and white tv.

 

Sure, a heck of a lot of shit has improved our lives since our twenties and thirties (no young kids and not even having to pretend you can get into a size 8), but sometimes it’s still hard to crack a smile and be thankful. Obviously, I know now how much better it feels when my glass is half-full rather than half empty, and you can take that metaphorically or not… although I have been sober for two whole nights now at this point of painful withdrawal and so am feeling particularly smug.

 

It’s also because – and here’s that middle-aged wisdom shit again – the small step I’ve made towards a modicum of maturity via the ageing process has suddenly turned a light on what’s really important in my life right now. Although I know the old man won’t believe this when the receipts from Christmas begin to flood onto our bank statement, this new-found contentment has surprisingly very little to do with money or material stuff – apart from good wine and nice food, of course – no, it’s much simpler than that, it’s about being a complete fucking saint and realising just how much I have.

 

Not rocket science, and this new mindset may well have something to do with two weeks off work over Christmas, and like childbirth I may have simply forgotten what real pain feels like, and perhaps all I really need is a dose of reality, but below is ANOTHER list of things I’m feeling grateful for:

 

My health, because although my head tells me every day that my body is probably riddled with cancer or I’m going to cark it from a massive stroke or heart attack, (thank you “anxiety”), at the moment it’s pretending to function quite well for a 51 year-old who has abused it for most of her life. And I’m fortunate enough to be in the position where I can service it and drag my ageing, calcium-deficient bones up steep hills and along the lanes of the pool and nourish it with a good diet. It even talks to me in a language I understand now – like when I stand up too quickly and have no feeling in my legs.

 

My family and friends, because I have a family that loves and cares for me, and I quite like them too, sometimes. We’re not perfect. We fight and say mean things and the F word and the C word are the native tongue in our house, and at times we could make much more effort. But the bond is real. And even though there are many extended family members and friends that I rarely see, thankfully the memories only dim but are never completely deleted, and thanks to technology, the distance between us doesn’t feel as great as it is in miles.

 

I’m grateful for the obsessive interests I’ve developed with age, which means I have very little free time, because free time for over-thinkers like me is dangerous. Writing, walking, swimming and nagging the old man, are all equally cathartic for balance.

 

Humor – because whatever happens, I can still laugh about anything, but most importantly at myself.

 

My home, and I’m not alluding to its physical state of bricks and mortar or even the heartbeat of my house itself – as lovely as it is – but its location and surrounding natural beauty is what never ceases to amaze me. I walk most days, by myself or with the Princess, occasionally with the old man (when he can tolerate my tortoise pace), and within minutes I am sighing with happiness like the person who won the lottery and hasn’t told anyone, as each wave of fresh gratitude washes over me. I have a childish fascination again with whatever amazing new slice of landscape or wildlife we discover and those experiences have opened my eyes to the simple task of ‘living’, which continues to be wondrous. And yes, that might be the happy meds talking, but it’s a massive step for me to be able to embrace rather than tolerate my lot, and now I’m only sad that I wasted so much time getting here.

 

All of this gratitude may come across as self-absorbed and it is, because it is down to my decision to put myself first and look after ME, which I highly recommend. Go on, try it. I’m being selfish for the first time in a long time and not only for my own personal growth, but in an attempt (note how I resisted using the adjective ‘desperate’) to put some fire in the bellies of my kids to kickstart their own journey, find their own way and their fulfilment at their own destination.

 

What have I missed?

Whatever Floats Off Your Boat

Like many people I suspect, whenever I’m under pressure to perform or create an impression, I fuck up badly. tree-trunk-in-the-water-1254566_1280

 

Last weekend we were invited onto the boat of some of the old man’s work friends. For normal people, the idea of jet-setting around on a yacht in the clear, emerald-green waters of the Hawkesbury on what was forecast to be a beautiful Saturday night, with dinner in a stunning restaurant at the water’s edge afterwards, is a dream come true. I was naturally fearful.

 

Boating and skiing fall into the same category of “extreme sports” in my world, which is shaped by anxiety, and means that I see anything and everything as out to get me. For this reason, I only dip my toe into risky activities when I have to, even though there are elements of faking the life of the rich and famous that I could become rather accustomed to.

 

Unfortunately, work commitments meant that the old man and I couldn’t sail into the bay with the rest of our party that afternoon and so we were whisked onto our floating bedroom for the night just prior to appetisers and pre-dinner drinks. The setting and forecast couldn’t have been better as I tripped over a guide wire upon embarkation, which I managed to laugh off in spite of my insides doing a reverse dive with a half somersault and we spent a gloriously magical evening with extremely generous hosts and new friends.

 

One aspect of boating life that has always terrified me is the toilet arrangements. In fact, sod tweezers, food and music, top of my list of desert island must-haves would be a WC. ‘Pee off the side’, had been the old man’s helpful suggestion when I voiced my concerns before we left civilisation, which did little to sway my fear, but luckily we struck gold on this occasion when we found that our cabin was within spitting distance of the boat’s manual toilet. And in spite of the Titanic theme tune that refused to stop playing over and over again in my head, I relaxed after dinner and slept like a baby.

 

However, come the morning and after a night where I probably consumed more food than I would typically in a whole week, I had to go number twos.

 

Now some might find that situation awkward but I wasn’t concerned, because by now I was a pro at the process of filling and emptying the manual toilet. So it was with a new-found confidence that I slipped discreetly into the tiny cubicle while the rest of my new boating friends enjoyed their coffee in the morning sun, and careful not to over-use the paper, be efficient and quick, I was satisfied that no-one would ever know that I had dumped my load.

 

When I first pulled on the pump and nothing happened my anxiety meds kicked in reliably with their reassuring ‘it’ll be fine’ fervour, common in the first few seconds of one of my crises, even though the sight of the bulging culprit smirking evilly at me from the bottom of the bowl did little to assuage my sense of impending doom.

 

‘Breathe,’ I reminded myself as I tried to remain calm and began to pump furiously.

 

I pumped some more, aware that by now the Skipper must realize that we had a problem, but some guffaws from the cockpit reassured me that no-one knew, then I heard the engine go on and felt the boat begin to move, so I took full advantage of the noise and pumped with renewed vigour, silently praying that my nightmare hadn’t been detected.

 

But it was no use. The meanest-looking turd eventually went down with a helping hand, but that still left some persistent little critters floating around the surface, and finally I made the decision that breaking the toilet outweighed my shame and went and had a quiet word with the Skipper’s wife.

 

It was only when the old man told me that the whole boat had witnessed the product of my healthy bowel movements float past them over breakfast that it sunk in what a truly wonderful first impression I’d made with this new group of friends. There was no prize for the healthy buoyancy of my excrement, which the kayakers amongst our group were forced to dodge as they entered the water.

 

And I thought it was only me who considered “boating” such an extreme sport.

 

On a scale of “funny to the deepest shame”, the experience was more awkward than when my chicken fillet flew out of my bra and directly  into the face of my best friend’s husband when ‘Dancing Queen” came on at a party once, and slightly less shameful than when I was interviewed by Sydney University and was asked what I thought NC would gain from her time there and I responded ‘a high tolerance to alcohol.’

 

 

Those ‘What’s It All About?’ Moments

mandrill-1194343_1280I’ve been having a lot of those ‘what’s it all about?’ moments recently.

 

I changed my medication recently so it could be that, or simply a residual post-sickness tiredness that has sapped me of the energy to exercise, socialise and get out of my yoga pants.

 

Then again it’s probably the hormones, the tail end of winter, the move or a million other fucking things that I can’t put my finger on, but that make me feel as anxious as fuck.

 

 

I’m okay, but I’m kind of not. An unsettled feeling.

 

One of my good friends thinks it’s our age, that we all feel a bit out of kilter at this stage of our lives, when we’re beyond the disappointment and acceptance of ‘this is it’ that we went through in our forties, but ahead of the ‘fuck it’ financial gloriousness of retirement and our twilight years.

 

I just feel overwhelmingly tired most of the time, which might be because the old man keeps waking me up rudely in the middle of the night because I’ve begun to snore and then I can’t go back to sleep, but not even wine and Netflix can seem to restore my Tigger bounce.

 

A woman, probably in her sixties, walked in front of my car on the pedestrian crossing today with a huge grin plastered on her face and I said to the old man ‘that’s how I want to look all the time.’

 

‘Probably not going to happen with me,’ he replied dolefully, because even though I feel that we’re on a rare plane of closeness at the moment, we exacerbate each other’s anxiety and the impending move has begun to play on our minds.

 

I feel a sense of sadness deep down in my marrow that I can’t explain. Even Bridget Jones barely raised a smile.

 

Thank God for friends.

 

I know I have no right to be sad when there are refugees fighting for their lives and acceptance and inspiring stories such as the one I read this week about the two kids with Cystic Fibrosis who married each other even though they knew that to be together would ultimately kill them. I never realized before that people with the condition can’t mix with each other because of the low immune system caused by CF, and the ability for bacteria to grow easily on their lungs. But it doesn’t work like that.

 

How lonely AF must it be if you can’t even moan to your closest friends about how much life fucking sucks sometimes?