The 7 Best Ways To Find Your Christmas Spirit If You’re A Grinch

In spite of my newfound, VERY mature thoughts about the insignificance of consumerism in my life at this time here, I have launched myself full throttle into Christmas.

Living room with full of Christmas decorations.

To be honest, I’m a bit of a Christmas tragic. We were fortunate to have a mother who made the festivities so special for us that even though she died in December, the month remains my favourite in the year. In some ways, I suppose, I want to uphold her tradition of Christmas madness because it feels like a celebration of her life. My sister is as bad. So much so, we have an annual race to get the tree up first. I won this year. (Just saying, Ange).

When we lived in the UK, we used to wait until mid December before we put the tree up – although I’m sure that has changed as the world gets more and more embroiled in the commercialism of the season. But here, in Australia, we kick off the celebrations much earlier, probably because it is the start of our long summer holidays, or possibly for the benefit of the many migrants who struggle to find their Christmas spirit.

I fully commit. While many of my British circle don’t feel Christmas is the same in a hot climate, I have embraced the morning swim on Christmas morning with gusto, followed by turkey and Christmas pudding – even in 35-degree heat!

Needless to say, by late November I’ve already mentally signed off for the year and entrenched myself fully in plans for our annual Chrissy Drinks, what to wear on the special days, and Christmas shopping. This year, I’m even going to see White Christmas with some fellow Christmas freaks.

So, if you’re a Grinch and need some help in the Christmas spirit department, here are my 7 great ways to find it:

1.Add some sparkle to your home. OBVS, a tree is the best, but if you can’t be bothered, a liberal dose of tinsel and coloured lights will do the trick. I have a rather fetching bauble head piece that I wear.

2. Nothing beats the aroma of Christmas spices. I still make Delia’s Red Cabbage each year, even though everyone in the family hates it. The smell of cloves and cinnamon push me up one more notch on the Christmas madness scale.

3. Fish out the Christmas movies. I can recommend the latest piece of schmalz from the UK – Last Christmas – in spite of the reviews. Emma Thompson is superb, Emilia Clarke is magnetic, and Henry Golding makes for some lovely tree candy. Although, for my money you can’t beat The Holiday or the Christmas scenes in Bridget Jones.

4. Go to Aldi and stock up on all their yummy Christmas treats. It is a scientifically-proven fact that calories don’t count at Christmas and while you might think you don’t need that DIY Gingerbread House, of course you do!

5. Christmas music – At home, in the car, in the shower. Sex is good, but absolutely nothing beats dancing around the kitchen to Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

6. Give/Donate/Be Kind. So we all know that the old saying that giving is better than receiving is a load of old bollocks, but even the biggest cynic knows that nothing beats the high to be had from “giving.” If you can find a way to donate or help someone at Christmas, I promise you’ll enjoy yours all the more. Whatever your budget, even the tiniest act of generosity can make a difference to those less fortunate than you. Buy charity Christmas, donate some cash, help the koalas, or thank the firemen, but make a difference! This year, I’m going to “donate a plate” for the homeless via The Wayside Chapel here.

7. Don’t be a Grinch and you might actually enjoy it. Be positive. Don’t worry about who you don’t like or who doesn’t like you at Christmas lunch, family feuds, or undercooking the turkey. There are fewer and fewer occasions when families and communities get the opportunity to simply BE together, so whether you are religious or not, look at Christmas that way. It is a reminder about what is important. No one’s really coming for the turkey (who would?) or the booze – they’re coming to see you, to see each other. They’re coming for that magical sense of belonging that lose sight of in our busy lives. Christmas has this incredible power to reinstate it.

Fortunately for me, after almost thirty years together, Scrooge has resigned himself to my craziness at this time of the year. He refuses to indulge in it – evidently, he has picked up that it is much safer not to burst my Christmas bauble – but each year, he dutifully buys the ice for the Christmas party, mixes the drinks, and then (I imagine) he rolls his eyes the minute my back is turned. On Boxing Day, when I am rocking in a corner, he skips around the house singing his self-penned “Christmas Is Over” song with gay abandon.

It was the small, magical moments during our holiday to Hawaii that mattered most

Forgive me for my recent radio silence, but I’m struggling to get back into real time since our return from Hawaii.

No doubt, some of you will be interested to know how we fared, having spent so much time reading about my angst in relation to where the fuck to take an anxious, middle-aged man who didn’t want to leave his suburb. But, alas, I am no travel writer, so I’ve decided to style this post in the same way as Jamila Rizvi did here last week in The Age, and focus on the small things that made it feel so special.

Woman sitting on beach in front of view.
I call this photo “Come to Mama!”

I won’t lie, the holiday (in the company of my husband and our twenty-something daughter) wasn’t always the plain sailing experience I had prayed for prior to our departure from Sydney. However, I won’t bore you with the stories of when our two hire cars broke down – leading to the old man’s worldwide ban from AVIS – the loss of his bank card, or the time he turned the wrong way down a street. As I’m sure you can tell from this photo, he had a great time.

Man looking miserable at shopping center.
Have you ever seen such a vision of natural joy? He just LOVES shopping and Halloween.

And by normal standards, I imagine that the sort of holiday woes we experienced are the kind of par-for-the-course shit that everyone goes through, laughs about and puts down to travelling.

Admittedly, the bus tour between Honolulu and Haleiwa on the North Shore was not the anticipated 45 minute journey I had forecast in my itinerary – probably because I read the ‘by car’ calculation of time instead of ‘by stagecoach’ – but at least it included an educational tour of Honolulu’s military bases and a nostalgic trip back to the prison set where Hawaii 5-0 must have been shot. The return journey was even longer, and while none of us expected a three-hour circumnavigation of Oahu that took us into the night, we were all grateful for the scenic experience.

Many lessons were learned: we now know never to declare war on a feisty Hawaiian customer service lady who deals with entitled tourists on a daily basis; we learned that the portion sizes really are as terrifying in the US as we had been led to believe, and that you only need order a few plates to share; and finally, we now appreciate that the mountain temperature on our weather App is no guide to the temperature on the beach.

Mouthwatering plate of Tuna Tataki.
The TUNA!

There were the usual minor medical issues like blocked ears, dehydration, and some ongoing issues with obesity augmented by the portion size of the Rocky Road ice cream they sold at our local bar.

But let me get back to the small things that justified our thousands of dollars spent choice of destination, that still make my heart sing to the tune of Moana each time I think back to them:

  1. The landscape: What’s not to love about a destination that offers world-class beaches, the spirituality of a mountain landscape (that look like it belongs in Peru), and cheap, designer shopping that even the most ardent window shopper will find impossible to resist?
  2. The beaches: I can honestly say that Waikiki, the beaches on the North Shore of Honolulu, and those in Maui lived up to the paradise we had been promised. Living in Australia, it’s hard to impress us when it comes to beaches, but we weren’t disappointed – particularly by the ocean temperature, which made it dead easy to plunge into it several times a day.
  3. The turtles: I’ll be honest, we didn’t see flocks of them like I imagined – a bit like when we visited Kangaroo Valley and never saw any kangaroos – but we spotted several from the shoreline and a couple swam up close to us. Fact: they can be SERIOUSLY BIG MOTHERFUCKERS!
  4. The snorkelling: This time it was the relaxing experience I imagined it could be when I was growing up and wanted to be Jacques Cousteau. Pretty, unthreatening tropical fish were a welcome change from The Great Barrier Reef’s terrifyingly black Gropers and slimy cucumbers, and although NC swore she saw a sea snake, she only told me about it once we were on the plane home.
  5. The music: Hawaiian music comes from the soul and shoots straight through the heart. I will always remember the night the old man asked a Hawaiian singer to sing a song from Moana for NC, who ugly-cried (very publicly), and another when a heavily pregnant dancer performed the Hula.
  6. American coffee: It gets a bad rap around the world, but the choice of flavours is awesome. I mean, how can a Vanilla/Macadamia nut coffee be bad?
  7. The food: OMG! Sex is good but have you ever tried melt-in-your-mouth Ahi (tuna), sealed in hot butter, with sides of coleslaw and coconut rice?
  8. The sunsets: I’m usually half way down a bottle by sunset and never fully appreciate their beauty, but Maui’s sunsets light up the sky like fireworks and are impossible to ignore.
Restaurant view of stunning mountain landscape in Maui.
Not a bad view for lunch.

And then there were the cheap COCKTAILS, an overdue discovery of Fireball whisky. and the old man’s dishcloth dance – after aforementioned whisky. All in all, a myriad of magical moments thrown into twelve days and an experience I’d love to replicate, had the old man not thrown away his passport.

17 Signs Your Dog Is “A Princess”

Did I mention that WE’RE GOING TO HAWAII in a couple of weeks? Of course I did.

Three cute dogs sitting on their beds.

And, as you can imagine, it has been hard to contain the feverish excitement of the old man at the prospect of shopping in Honolulu, taking long, guided bus tours with complete strangers, and our first Luau.

But, like most parents, we’re experiencing the guilts about leaving our baby behind. We don’t have the boat, money or influence of Johnny Depp, and we hear that the Americans can be really quite scary when it comes to illegal immigration, so this time we are leaving her at home in the hands of a couple of baby…er… dog-sitters.

Note to self: remind aforementioned babysitters that “The Princess” doesn’t actually identify as a dog.

And because our dog isn’t any normal bone-chewing, butt-sniffing mutt, I envisage that the poor sods left in her charge will require some sort of book guide to her habits. She is, after all, a woman of a certain age, with special needs, who (suffice it to say) does not suffer fools easily. So, here’s some advice I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Sometimes, she eats breakfast, but more often than not she sniffs at the dog biscuits in her bowl in disgust and then death-stares you until you give her a treat.
  2. She has a part-time job as a door bell. If someone so much as breathes in the street, she becomes the true Rottweiler she was born to be – although she has also been known to sleep through several break-in attempts.
  3. Her favourite snacks are toast and Scotch fingers (preferably dunked in Lady Grey tea at 50 degrees). She will death stare you if you dare eat either of those without sharing.
  4. She is getting on in years now and has come to despise long walks. If she senses that a trek is on the cards – i.e. further than 2kms – she will tug on the lead in a type of doggie morse code to warn you to turn back. Such blatant abuse of her trust and freedom may trigger a depressive episode.
  5. Maintaining a body like hers requires a lot of water.
  6. “The Princess” likes to space her poos out on walks, to make the event more of a ritual. One log here, another a few metres on… She particularly likes to play this game when you are low on bags.
  7. Her two favourite meals are roast chicken and veggies (as in roast potatoes and nothing green, please) and Spaghetti Bolognese. She has excellent table manners and uses the living room rug afterwards as her napkin.
  8. Her preference in terms of sleeping arrangements is to sleep in the bed with you, in the foetal position, fur to skin, heartbeat to heartbeat. She will kick you intermittently to let you know that she is still alive.
  9. She does not tolerate other dogs, apart from fellow Spoodles. Any dog that gets too close to her rear end is dealt with appropriately. Interestingly, the same rule does not seem to apply to her own butt-hole inspections.
  10. She speaks three languages and is currently learning French from her parents’ latest Netflix obsession with foreign language series. Her favourite genre is Scandi Noir, and this is also her intended specialist subject for Mastermind.
  11. The highlight of her day – after any event that involves food – is to cuddle up on the sofa under her favourite blankie with Netflix and a glass of wine.
  12. She does not go outside in the rain, and during inclement weather she has been known to defy the age of her bladder and hang on for longer than one would believe is caninely possible.
  13. She is obsessed with balls – indeed, the word uses up five of her twenty-word vocabulary. Warning: she will jump off a cliff for a ball.
  14. Like most older women, she doesn’t tolerate idiots, doesn’t give too many fucks (unless food or plumbers are involved), and she has been known to suffer from the occasional mood swing. Her weekly visit to her therapist or a joint usually sorts this out.
  15. Common triggers: long walks, men, tradesmen, the vet, baths, the groomer, worming tablets, suitcases, Boris (the Maltese at no. 34).
  16. She is a homebody who does not cope well with transitions. She does a very believable impression of a dead dog attached to a lead when she is forced to do something she wants no part of.
  17. Vomit triggers: being in the car, homemade treats, any green vegetable, transitions, long walks, being left alone at home, staying with people she doesn’t know…

ENJOY!

This Is How A Middle-Aged Couple With Anxiety Books A Holiday

There are certain undeniable factors when two people with anxiety get married. 1. There will be a lot of overthinking, and 2) We can talk ourselves out of pretty much anything.

Raising a cocktail toast in front of a beautiful beach.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Such has been the marital soap opera created by my decision that we go on a proper holiday this year – a decision that has at times felt like having teeth pulled without anaesthetic underneath the maskless face of a caffeine-addicted dentist.

Every possible destination was considered during our intense negotiations – including some of the great ones suggested by some of you – until eventually we managed to narrow the choice down to three – once terrorism, risk of gastro, length of flight and language had been taken into consideration.

New Zealand, Vietnam and Hawaii.

Uncharacteristically generously, I gave the old man the final choice, and after much shaking of his head and chewing on his lip, he opted for New Zealand. Too easy, I thought (misguidedly), as I launched myself into another week of unpaid work in the form of research – even procuring the services of a lovely local tour company who created the most perfect itinerary for us (that didn’t include Christchurch, due to its earthquake issues), and just about squeezed into the budget.

And somewhat foolishly, I truly believed that the holiday was done and dusted when I handed the itinerary over to my husband, chomping on the bit to get started on broadcasting the news to my fellow anxious travellers and friends on Facebook that I hate on a little bit more each time I see them downing Tequilas on another beach.

Then the old man decided that New Zealand is too cold in October.

‘Okay…’ I replied, through gritted teeth.

‘Let’s brave Vietnam,’ he said, three Whiskies into a Friday night.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked.

‘Absolutely. It’s time to push ourselves out of our comfort zone,’ he lied, in what I now recognise was a very clever delaying tactic.

And so another intense week of research followed during which I pulled together a fantastic holiday that encompassed several days in Hanoi, a brief sejour in Sapa, and a week in Halong Bay. Indeed, so confident was I that Vietnam was our final destination, I had already checked out cooking courses, markets and hotels. But then I dropped into the conversation that the trip included an overnight train journey to Sapa…

‘What overnight train?’ the old man asked, a worried look on his face.

‘Relax,’ I said. ‘You get your own cabin and it only takes seven hours,’ I started to bluster as I tried to convince myself at the same time. ‘AND it will save us the cost of a night in a hotel.’

‘And there’s an overnight stay on a boat in Halong Bay, as well?’ he asked.

‘Maybe…’

‘On a boat?’

Needless to say, Vietnam was also quietly put on hold until we have earned our travel stripes, which left us Hawaii. However, too exhausted by this stage to think about it or to cope with the inevitable disappointment when my husband changed his mind AGAIN, I threw the ball in his court.

‘You bloody organise it,’ I said, passing him the gauntlet.

I picked the gauntlet back up a few days later and gave him a deadline of last weekend to book – otherwise all sorts of shit was going to go down in our place, I promised him, that amongst other things involved a 60/40 split of our accumulated wealth once we reached the divorce courts.

And, dear friends, we have booked a holiday, with only three months in between now and then to worry about what can possibly go wrong – ie. being approved for our visas, being forced to sleep in the same bed, driving on the wrong side of the road, whether we’re allergic to the pollen in Leis and if the timing of happy hour will work with nap time. So very soon I will be pissing you all off with my very own Photoshopped holiday snaps on my social media accounts of us topping up our Valium sipping Pina Coladas around our pool.

Is It Normal To Hate People Who Go On Exotic Holidays All The Time? Asking For A Friend

This is a follow on from my last post in which I discussed my chances of dragging my husband away on an exotic holiday this year. Thank you for the abundance of awesome recommendations (for anxious, middle-aged couples, with zero interests in common) that you kindly left on that post, and which have since been dissected, over-thought and (no doubt) put on the back burner until I force him to make a decision.

Image found on Pinterest from awakenmindset.com

I should point out that I have warned him that his refusal to commit is exactly the sort of thing that middle-aged couples divorce over, and in response he asked me when I am leaving.

I am not, by nature, a green-eyed monster, so I find this whole travel-envy thing to be quite peculiar. Indeed, I have always denied the impact of social media on my happiness – made easier in this case, I imagine, by our move to the other side of the world to a wonderful country that offers a wealth of different landscapes and natural beauty.

I was, (and still am), committed to the financial choices the old man we have made to semi-retire.

However, it does leave us with a very limited budget for holidays and lately I’ve started to get itchy feet, thanks to all of those inspirational memes about travel, adventures and growth that fill my FB home page, as well as the bunch of our friends that are starting to take advantage of their new empty-nester status and are therefore ALWAYS on fucking holiday.

So what’s changed? I suppose that when I entered this stage of my life I still had the arrogance of the European who feels like they’ve seen the world – when the reality is, I’ve visited a couple of European countries a lot of times. I may have lived in Europe for forty years, but I didn’t have the wisdom back then to make the most of what it had to offer.

Added to which, I came back from our last exotic trip to Bali in two minds about foreign holidays. I was pretty shaken up by the level of poverty – in what I had been led to believe was a paradise – hence, I spent much of our time there stressing about the families on scooters, food poisoning and feral dogswhich always made a beeline for me.

Unsurprisingly, our next holiday was to Forster.

I’m not certain what is behind this current attack of itchy feet. Is it an innate fear of time running out? Am I missing a diversity of culture that simply doesn’t exist on the Northern Beaches of Sydney? Or is it simply that I’m scared that I am cruising through life and getting boring?

While there are many benefits to working from home – the main one being that my desk is close to the fridge – one of the few downsides is that life can become very insular. And when you struggle from anxiety, the fact that you rarely have to leave the house can cultivate the problem.

Interestingly, when I think about my dream holiday, it isn’t about swanky hotels, exotic beaches or even two-for-one cocktails like it used to be – we have some pretty nice beaches here. No, the appeal is more linked to new experiences, new cultures, the challenge of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and growth. It is about sharing those experiences with my soulmate – rather than the typical mundanities we share each week, like when the dog last went out for a poo.

Don’t get me wrong. I am very content to get comfortable in certain areas of middleage-dom. I wouldn’t trade flat shoes, nightly Netflix and separate bedrooms for anything! But I can’t ignore that little voice that keeps nagging me to keep on exploring.

Anxious, Middle-Aged Couple Seeks Ideas For Perfect Holiday

We’re in the early stages of marital negotiations about a possible holiday towards the end of the year. I’ve won the first round – as in the old man has finally agreed to leave Australia. However, where to go is proving more problematic.

Photo of The Big Banana at Coffs Harbour in Australia.

I am struggling to find that perfect holiday destination that offers an active, cultural experience, as well as decent resort facilities for the old man to hit a ball for most of the day. Good internet for easy access to golf and dog videos would also be a bonus.

Being a Cancer, his absolute favourite place in the whole world is obviously home – an insularity that appears to have deepened since he entered middle age – which means that I can almost see his balls shrivel up each time I bring up the idea of “new experiences”.

For him, a “new experience” is not picking the burger in a restaurant in this new, middle-aged stage of hyper-male grumpiness.

Both of us suffer from anxiety, hence the idea of simply hopping on a plane and going on an adventure is never going to happen. We need to overthink the fuck out of every minute of the two weeks that we will be away. We need to fill one suitcase with every legal medication we may need. We need to read hotel reviews and access world seismology reports to do a full risk assessment of where is safe.

Negotiating a foreign country and culture is a scary prospect, when you’re scared of your own shadow.

But whereas I refuse to give into my fear, the old man is quite comfortable to say no. And he has a point: this is the time in your life when you can and you should dig your heels in, if you feel that strongly about it.

The problem is, (as I keep reminding him), he is a married man, and our union comes with certain responsibilities – as in “in sickness and on holiday”. And since I have made two major trips back to the homeland by myself over the past couple of years, I think it’s time he took one for the team.

So, this is our brief. Ten days to two weeks in October to somewhere that won’t dent a massive hole in our dwindling savings and involves no more than a twelve-hour flight. We need the option to relax, as well as places to explore. Somewhere not too cold – because we’re pretty wussy when it comes to the cold after almost fourteen years in Oz – and it goes without saying that there can be no risk of coups, tsunamis, earthquakes or even food poisoning.

I have done my research, and come close to booking The Big Banana again!

Any ideas?

New Years Resolutions: Page 1 of 365

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.

Page 2…

When You Travel Back To The Motherland And Feel Like A Tourist

When You Feel Like A Tourist In Your Own Country

Anybody who has migrated to another country will understand the conundrum of whether “home” will always be the place in which you were born or your adopted country.

At this stage of life – the old AF period just prior to death – the question can become all the more poignant with our tendency to become over- nostalgic.

The grass appears infinitely more lush in the company of family, old friends, Jelly Babies – not the green ones, obviously – and Earl Grey tea.

And it’s easy to fantasize and get carried away with how great everything is when you’re on holiday and everyone seems excited to see you and eager to catch up on your news.

It’s particularly easy in London at Christmas time, a city that morphs into the chocolate-box fantasy created in films like The Holiday and Love Actually, if you let your imagination run away from you.

Few countries do Christmas as well as the UK, and Brussel sprout-flavored crisps, decadent Advent calendars with drawers for gifts, mince pie cocktails, and pubs with real fires suck you right back into its charm quickly.

And yet, there have been changes in the country since my last visit.

Not that it should really come as any surprise to find that one’s home country has evolved at a similar pace to one’s adopted one – indeed, much faster when it comes to cities – but subtle changes can cause problems for the out-of-touch, middle-aged tourist, returning to the land of her birth. I refer to the need to remember that pounds do not equate to Aussie dollars, which was something I struggled with, in spite of the intense schooling provided by the old man for several weeks prior to my departure about the meaning of the word budget.

A number of times, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief at the cost of a round of drinks or a dinner out, only to remember later that I was paying in pounds, not Aussie dollars.

Admittedly, maths were never my strong suit at school – as was proven when I was hoisted up to top set maths for two weeks in Year 9, only to be dropped back down as quick as a hot potato when my teacher discovered that my new (and impressive) marks had less to do with any previously undiscovered talent and more to do with my access to the answers to our homework in the back of our textbook.

However, in spite of my struggle with basic mathematics – I remember that decimal points and percentages were particularly tiring – I still managed to achieve a first-class degree in spending money, a skill that I have since learned can be highly dangerous during trips to the motherland, in which the currency has become …well…a bit foreign. Added to which, I am not used to carrying cash in my purse – a rule instigated by the old man during Kurt’s pick-pocketing stage (which now has more to do with my husband’s micro-management of my problem) – which means that I struggle to fully understand its value.

It is very easy to convince yourself that you are richer than your husband has ever allowed you to believe when you add in the complication of a foreign currency that looks and feels as genuine as Monopoly money. And as pounds no longer feel “real” to me – particularly those I withdrew from the very generous overdraft facility of a dormant British bank account that (I hope) the old man has forgotten exists – I knew that I had to be careful with coins that resemble the old French franc and tiny bits and bobs of silver – that my father calls “shrapnel” – which frankly could be Italian Lire.

“Bits and bobs” was an example of cockney rhyming slang that Jeff Goldblum attempted to get to the bottom of during his jazz show at Cadogan Hall, which we saw whilst in London – Yass, darlink! Jeff was merely attempting to understand the meaning of expressions such as mince pies for eyes and apples and pears for stairs – obvious, really – and yet I found myself identifying with the expression each time I waded through the play money at the bottom of my purse in search of a tip for a cab or the 30p now charged for a pee in several of London’s larger train stations.

Such changes, along with Pret’s egg and cress sandwich, (stiff competition for the M & S version in my opinion), the choice of the medium or large servings of wine in pubs, dogs in pubs, and the 12.5% service charge, were only a couple of a succession of changes that had me feeling like a tourist in my own country at times, and at others, completely at “home.”

 

The Secret To Surviving Long-Haul Flights With Anxiety

colton-jones-561163-unsplashIt wasn’t quite the Love Actually airport moment that I had anticipated when I spotted the old man waiting for me at the wrong exit of Sydney airport after my latest grueling long-haul flight, and I wasn’t amused. 

It seems appropriate to compare the torture of such flights to being forced to a Republican Thanksgiving family gathering with an (as yet) undeclared same-sex partner and a cold sore. Jet-lag aside, perhaps the most daunting aspect of the ordeal is being forced to share one’s personal habits in a very small space with potentially four to five hundred strangers, any one of whom may:

  • Be carrying a potentially lethal virus.
  • Be a terrorist.
  • Have children.
  • Smell.

Small children are perhaps the biggest crime. I mean…WHY? Small children do not fare well when restrained for long periods of time – least of all by sleep-deprived parents that lose all lucidity and any sense of responsibility after the first eight hours – and they have a natural tendency to cry all the time when they are tired, when they can’t do or eat what they want, or when they don’t feel safe – a perhaps understandable reaction when every other passenger on the plane is eyeballing them with unsuppressed hatred.

A similar sense of helplessness is experienced by those of an anxious disposition; those who catastrophize every aspect of their life, but particularly the daunting unpredictability of being locked in an aircraft over a long period of time. It has been found that poor control in connection with the obvious threat of crashing, certain death, and becoming the main course for the posse of tiger sharks waiting in the waters beneath them is typically the trigger for such anxiety, although there are several others associated with traveling in such a non-sensical mode of transport.

These are:

Will they make their connection?

Will there be space directly above their seat for their carry-on luggage, or will they be forced to ask a stranger to lift it down for them in that panic of disembarkation when it is imperative for everyone to get off the plane immediately?

Will their cabin stewards hate them and lie about there only being the fish left when they want chicken?

Will the passenger next to them have Spanish influenza or Bird flu?

Will they talk, snore or dribble in their sleep?

Will they be able to work out the door handle to the toilet or be forced to test their bladder control in the most public of places?

Should they eat the bean and pasta starter and risk embarrassing wind issues that have nothing to do with the Gulf stream?

And if they do succumb to diarrhoea, what are their strategies for minimal embarrassment. Do they, a) push their way to the front of the toilet queue? b) Stew quietly in their own poo? or c) kill themselves?

Fortunately for you, I have survived this type of trip more times than I care to remember, and so, as the holiday season looms, I share with you my curated list of tips for getting through what can only be described as a hell greater than eating a dodgy oyster:

  1. Wet wipes – Never underestimate the multi-faceted powers of the wet wipe. If you thought their sole purpose was to wipe spag bol off the faces of kids, you’ve never been on a long-haul flight. From spilled food and make-up removal to VERY personal hygiene – are you with me, menopausal women? – these handy little towels have saved my life more times that I can remember.
  2. Jumper – Don’t make the mistake of boarding a plane in a hot country and assuming that you will stay warm. Airplanes are colder than Westeros in winter and airline blankets are thinner than the new Apple MacBook Air. Survival rule number 1: locate all air con nozzles directed at your seat and disarm immediately.
  3. Select your seat carefully – because…children and toilets. When flying solo, I like to pick an aisle seat in a three-seat row, leaving a space next to me.  If the plane is fairly empty, sniff out the terrain for rows of empty seats as soon as all passengers have embarked. But be quick, Australians are as nifty as Germans and sun beds when it comes to seat appropriation.
  4. Headphones – Forget the ones provided by the airline, which wouldn’t block out a silent fart from the pilot. Invest in a decent pair of noise cancellers so that you can hear every word of that Middle Eastern film you selected by mistake before your touch screen stopped working.
  5. Drink wine with every meal, even breakfast. A long-haul flight is an excuse to get pissed at any time of the day because no one knows what the fuck the real time is anyway.
  6. Avoid all eye contact. You do not want to make friends with anyone who is going to see the state of your sorry arse after fifteen hours of sleep deprivation and an excess of cheap Sav Blanc.
  7. Medication – take whatever works for you. Nothing so strong that it incapacitates you in an emergency – meaning that mothers and kids get off first – but strong enough to ensure it sends you to sleep singing The White Cliffs of Dover.

You’re welcome!

 

 

Who Says Family Holidays Can’t Be Fun?

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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.

 

 

 

There’s A Sandwich Shortage In Australia

Far be it for me to take the spotlight away from Barnaby Joyce’s affair, however, Australia has a far bigger problem than a defunct political role model.

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It has a sandwich shortage.

 

When you drive through the state of NSW – that bit around Sydney and up to the Gold Coast – you will notice that the country is nothing like the way it is depicted in movies such as Mad Max ie. barren, soul-less, with kilometers of dirt, dust and cattle farms and serial killers that wait to hijack your combi the minute you step out of it for a pee. No, NSW is lush and green with beautiful beaches that must compete with some of the best in the world,

 

But long journeys are as boring AF, and what most of us tend to do when we’re bored is think about food.

 

In the UK, motorway cafes and petrol stations have remarketed themselves as fully stocked supermarkets that offer a variety of lunch options and snacks – they even sell wine. Whole aisles are dedicated to the sandwich, from the traditional egg and cress or chicken and mayo – my personal favorites – to the more exotic gourmet flavors handed down by their immigrant population. Even quinoa must have infiltrated the sandwich market at some level by now.

 

I bet that even Dean Moriarty, Jack Kerouac’s character in On The Road, found somewhere that made a decent sandwich, but in regional Australian, similar quests always seem to end in a hot pie with sauce (or “poie” as we pronounce it here) or a Maccas heart-attack fest. Mention a sandwich and the eyes of the locals glaze over – as though you just landed in one of North Korea’s practice missiles – which is kind of depressing when you think about the progress that has been made in diet and nutrition.

 

Far be it for me to knock the staple comfort food of my adopted country – I imagine that the steak pie has far more goodness in it than a super-sized Big Mac meal with a side of a chicken and cheeseburger and an Oreo sundae, which is Kurt’s lunch of choice after years of enforced healthy eating, but even with the dietary tweaks one makes on holiday, it is difficult to find anything healthy and tasty on the road.

 

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Admit it, you thought I was joking.

 

Sure, there are plenty of lollies, the sugar-fix of choice (if you can agree on whether to go sweet or sour) with six hours of barren landscape ahead of you, fights over playlists, bitching about the speed limit and which toilets to stop at. And there are plenty of (frankly) weird places to stop at in this vast country – Big Bananas, and cafes shaped like rocks where you sense that no one has ever heard of Netflix, (let alone dedicated their life to the sport of watching it), waxing or customer service, and where coffee is served via machines that all function slightly differently making you wish that IT was on the curriculum when you were at school – which all take on a heightened significance when you need to lift the tedium and pretense that there is any conversation left after twenty-five years of marriage.

 

We settled for a burger in the end. I couldn’t repeat the experience of last year when (finally) we found a café that was open and had a friendly staffer who had actually heard of the word “sandwich”, hadn’t run out of bread or only took cash. And it was only when I said the word “mayo” three times without a single glimmer of recognition of the abbreviated condiment, that all hope crumbled. When they (obviously) fertilized the egg, reared the bird and cooked it as we waited, my anxiety went into “abort mission” mode and the sandwich ended up in a bin down the street.

 

So we ended up at Maccas, again, and shared a portion of chips, one of those boring concessions to the aging process, where you allow yourself to stand on the edge of the pool of holiday-brazen-ness, but you only go in up to your waist. It’s a bitch getting old and realizing that you can’t ingest or imbibe whatever the fuck you want and that mental point system of calories in your head booms at you through a megaphone with “what the fuck are you thinking, you fat bitch?” every time you contemplate anything naughty but nice.

 

A full portion of chips is three glasses of wine to the muffin-top-challenged, so it’s a no-brainer, really.

When Your Kids Think They Can Tell You How To Drive

The old man and I are going on a five-day mini break this week. He will drive, because he always drives when we are in the car together and I am having my lips surgically sewn together, temporarily, to avoid any mistimed comments about his driving.

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I gave up the driver’s seat a while ago because the old man’s constructive criticism in regard to my own abilities nearly caused our deaths, several times. Not that the odd comment in relation to his skills doesn’t escape my mouth, but these days I use other, less incendiary actions to demonstrate my fear, such as engaging my foot with the passenger seat carpet, grabbing at my seat belt like we’re going down in the Titanic or simply gasping dramatically each time he aims for a cyclist.

 

We tend to get a bit more anxious about safety when mortality is staring us in the face and the reality hits home that it’s all just a numbers game. I can’t stand being in the car with either of my kids when they drive, either – because one is a lunatic and the other is the best female example of road rage I’ve ever prayed to a god I don’t believe in, to spare me.

 

I hasten to add, that the feeling is mutual. And while I am proud that my children have developed intelligent, questioning minds and vociferous opinions, their right to comment about my driving remains questionable.

 

Neither of them passed their tests until recently, yet both believe they are better drivers than me. You see, I am a Steady Eddy behind the wheel – aka SAFE – a result of my last job where one of my responsibilities was to drive clients around, often with small children, their lives in my hands. So I don’t exceed the speed limit, I stop on the orange light, I welcome everyone in front of me in my lane – even the ass-hole who has snuck up the inside to avoid the queue – and I never cut anyone up. I am the driving version of Mother Theresa, and being typical Millennials with their burning need for instant gratification and to reach their destination asap, Mum’s scenic route and the enjoyment of sitting at traffic lights to watch the world go by is downright annoying to the kids.

 

Kurt can’t keep his commentary on my driving to himself. This is the boy who got his license less than a year ago, his first fine two hours after his test, as well as a suspension – not for dangerous driving, I hasten to add – yet he believes that he is a more natural driver than I am, with thirty years experience behind me.

 

‘Don’t go! Don’t go!’ he shouts sarcastically, pushing his foot down on his own invisible brake pad as I wait for the road to clear completely, like Jesus parting the sea, before I attempt to cross it.

 

Or…

 

‘Let’s just sit at these lights and watch the pretty colors change again, shall we, Mum?

 

And…

 

‘Steady on, Speedy, we’re in a sixty zone and you just hit forty.’

 

Ha…bloody…ha!

 

He seems to have forgotten that WE taught HIM to drive, at great cost to both our wallet and our sanity, and that even after our anxiety reached a level that only Diazapan could handle and the night sweats about roundabouts and right of way kicked in, we remained calm and carried on. He appears to have forgotten that I have been driving since before I picked his father, indeed a very long time before he was even a twinkle in the eye of that sperm on a mission that night. He doesn’t know that I have driven across Europe by myself, crossed borders and frontiers and that I passed my test first time. He doesn’t appreciate, that apart from an unexplainable draw to columns in car parks and a tendency to drive straight through drive-thrus without stopping,  I am a woman and an excellent driver. 

 

 

 

The Prodigal Daughter Is Not Coming Home For Australia Day, She’s Coming To See Us

The prodigal daughter returns this weekend for the first time since she left the nest. While she assures me that she won’t be celebrating Australia Day for political reasons, I’ll believe that when she turns down the special bottle of Champers I’ve bought for tomorrow. 

girl-2480361_1920Although I only saw her a few days ago, it will be good to get some girl power back in the house. I use the word ‘prodigal’, but obviously, we won’t be cooking up a fatted calf in celebration, NC being a strict vegetarian who only eats fish if it doesn’t have a face and when she’s pissed. Anyway, a few cans of cider and a whole Camembert is much more my daughter’s style, because she’s classy like her mother.

I’ve changed her bedsheets, filled the fridge with tofu and warned Kurt to curb his excitement about her imminent arrival, because when I reminded him, he asked me why she had to come, and an ill-disguised look of pain crossed his face.

Siblings, huh!

‘Because it’s her home and we’re her parents and she wants to see us,’ I replied, convincing myself at the same time, because we all know what trips back home are really about after you land your first job and you’re still living hand to mouth – they’re about the all-inclusive hotel perks of home cooking, hot water, unlimited booze and access to your parents’ wallet.

I remember when we used to visit my in-laws when NC was a baby, how we’d walk through the front door, dump her straight into Grandma’s arms and then like Vikings, raid their home, their fridge, their wine cask, and even their wallet so that we could eat out that night. I don’t remember feeling any sense of shame about our behavior – we’d done our part, carried on the family line, and now we needed someone to parent us again for a short time.

We only saw NC when we had to during those glorious weekends, and I encouraged that dangerous grandma/grandchild connection. Frankly, I sold my motherhood soul while I was there – I didn’t give a toss about how many lollies she blackmailed my child with as long as she got up to her in the night, and I ignored all her unsubtle hints about my parenting skills not being quite like hers for those two precious lay-ins; forty-eight hours when I could pretend to be me again, the person I used to be before birthing this tiny monster that had sucked the lifeblood out of me.

Secretly, I’m excited to have the chance to spoil my little girl (I would say ‘again’ but I know she’ll dispute that). I know we’ll be arguing about the glasses in her room, the foundation streaks in the bathroom sink and the endless cans of lentils she opens and never finishes, probably by tomorrow morning, but for the moment I’ve filed my daughter’s annoying habits to the back of my mind.

He feigns not to be, but it is obvious that the old man is even more excited than me. He hasn’t seen NC for a month – because that would involve leaving the safety zone and embarking upon a treacherous, high-risk journey to the big smoke, an hour away. However, he has been suspiciously quieter than usual this week; no doubt sharpening his wit and revising his views on feminism, climate change and vegetarianism, to ensure an evening of typically light-hearted debate with his eldest child. He has also filled the fridge with cider.

Teaching Your Kids The Value Of Money, Hard Work And How Boring It Is To Adult

My father returned to Sydney for the Ashes and took the whole family out to dinner the other night – as in, he paid for all of us, naively telling us that he was going to BEFORE we had ordered from the menu.

 

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Like kids in a candy store

 

My kids aren’t used to a free-for-all mentality when it comes to restaurant menus – expensive off-piste specials included. With an accountant for a father, there are family rules when we eat out, and Kurt and NC have been strictly brought up to ignore appetizers, starters and cocktails and take a shortcut to the mains. Even steak – unless it’s contaminated by Mad Cow Disease (hence on special) – must be overlooked in favor of more sustainably financial choices, such as burgers, pasta or fish n’chips.

 

They understand that dessert will be an ice cream from the Seven-Eleven on the way home, if they’re lucky.

 

Which was why I couldn’t help feeling a little betrayed by the open mouths and first-day-of-the-Target-sales-look on both their faces when my father told them they could pick anything. Indeed, he might have been speaking a foreign language to them.

 

‘What?’ spluttered Kurt in disbelief, his eyes searching mine, imploring me to confirm this dream come true. ‘Even… a starter?’ At which point I had to kick him under the table.

 

NC is rather more mercenary and the minute the idea of oysters was bandied about, her hand went up – a fair-weather vegetarian, my daughter somehow managed to justify her inclusion in the fish starter via an emergency consultation with Google. It turns out that oysters are sustainable, do not have a nervous system or a face… apparently…hence they are fair game.

 

Anyone would think my kids had been brought up on the poverty line from the ill-disguised delight on their faces when a side order of bread suddenly appeared on the table – it was like a miracle had occurred, like Christmas after Christmas, as each of them regressed back to being kids in a candy store with a penny in their hands. And although I had worried about how Kurt would fare with the evening – eating out not being his favorite pastime –  I have never seen him adapt to a new situation as quickly.

 

And while I sat there pretending that cheese before dessert represents normal life in our household, I realized that my father’s generosity was a good lesson for my son – it was good for him to witness the pleasure to be gained from working hard. In his half-price Pierre Cardin trousers– two sizes too big, (but PC nonetheless), and one of Kurt’s first impulse buys from his hard-earned cash, he is learning the value of money quickly.

 

So I decided to ignore NC’s sneaky order of a Baileys at the end of the evening and the crass, all-you-can-eat-the-buffet-bar mentality of our family as a whole. Our behavior was not a sign of avarice, rather an appreciation and an extension of our kids education in the value of money – something that my son is slowly beginning to comprehend as he begins his working life, because impulsive, compulsive and with a worrying grasp of consequences, he has yet to have more than a cent left in his bank account  24 hours after payday, since he started to work.

 

Thank fuck, he is paid weekly.

 

This week, his father drags him into the next stage of how boring it is to be an adult money management when he starts making him pay for his own travel expenses, while I will adding a pair of strong walking shoes and a new bike to his birthday present list.