20 Surprising Things I Am Thankful For This Year

Anger was the main topic of conversation during my last visit to my therapist for the year. Anger about stuff I can’t control, mainly, but also anger about the world stuff I talked about here in my last post, as well as some anger issues about the usual personal frustrations.

Photo by Howard Riminton on Unsplash

In response, she drew that volcano on the board for me again, which is supposed to represent the three things that cause anger – fear, sadness, anxiety – but in truth, she could have added resentment, disappointment and envy as well.

Of course, anger is not an unusual emotion to experience at this time of the year, when there is so much anticipation, expectation, and erm family involvement. Which is why I have found myself pounding the pavements around my lake more often and more heavily than usual in the lead up to Christmas in an attempt to keep that woe is me vibe under control.

That’s why it was so good to be reminded that some things/people can’t be changed, and her analogy about not buying a cake from the butchers made perfect sense. And so, instead of dwelling on my frustrations about the last year in this final post before Christmas, I thought I’d give gratitude another go.

Here it is: my list of thank yous to the people and things that have contributed to my happy bits this year:

  1. The agents who have rejected my booknot really – because they’ve forced me to look at my manuscript again and improve it. I refuse to give up on this story that I know millions of women and mothers that are coping with mental illness in their family will identify with.
  2. My anti-depressants for my anxiety. Without them, there would have been many times I would have crumbled and given up. I continue to believe wholeheartedly that if you need medication for an illness, you take it, and no one should judge you for that choice.
  3. The editors who have taken a chance on me and allowed me to express my humble opinions to a much larger audience than this blog.
  4. My boss, for having faith in me, even though I keep questioning why.
  5. Old friends and family from the UK, who occasionally drop me a line and fill my heart with love.
  6. The Princess, who makes me look like a saint when it comes to unpredictable moods as she ages and who accepts me for who I am. In fact, thank you to all dogs who give so much unconditional love to their families and who provide so much entertainment on video.
  7. Toasted sandwiches – I rediscovered these halfway through the year and they are one of my new favourite comfort foods.
  8. Running – WTF!? I’m not going any further, any faster, or enjoying it any more than when I started this craziness, but it is one of the healthier ways to quash the anger.
  9. My therapist – I clicked with her the first time we met and I’m gutted that she’s moving away to pastures new. Thank you for not sitting on the fence. Thank you for sympathizing when I have those woe is me moments, and thank you for knowing exactly the right time to tell me to put on my big girl panties.
  10. My children – I want to thank NC for being my best friend, for always being straight with me, and for loving me in spite of my questionable nurturing skills. I know that her inheritance of the emotionally awkward gene makes it as hard for her to demonstrate her feelings, so let’s see just how bloody awkward Christmas can get when the two of us are forced to hug publicly again. Thank you Kurt for the many corners you have turned this year, for making me a proud mama even when you don’t think I am, for holding on, for holding out, for showing strength in the face of adversity, and for beating the old man at pool.
  11. Family – Thank you to those who stay in touch in spite of the distance I have put between us; to those who have braved a visit to the other side of the world, and to those who keep alive the memory of those that we have lost, which is far too many. A special thank to my siblings who have been through a lot of the same shithouse stuff as me, whose wings have been broken time and time again, and yet who manage to stick them back on each year and maintain a sense of humor.
  12. Wine – Thank you for getting me through many awkward social situations and personal crises, even if next year I am determined to put some distance between us. At the age of 54, I’m beginning to understand the ramifications of toxic relationships.
  13. My walking buddies – I never thought I would enjoy walking, come to hate noise, and see the point of plants. I like to think of the middle-aged stereotype I am turning into as maturing rather than growing old. Thank you to those friends with whom I have travelled kilometres, over-analysing our lives for their meaning. So many times I’ve returned from those journeys a changed woman. Our talks have made me understand how good life is when it is simple. Being at one with nature in the company of good friends is all an old girl really needs – except for no. 12, obviously.
  14. The cunts – Thank you to those people whose ignorance, discrimination, and abuse of privilege has made me wiser and stronger. To those who are too blind and too arrogant to acknowledge the inequality between men and women, the plight of refugees, or the affects of climate change. To those who refuse to accept that certain types of humour are simply not appropriate and continue to put their needs above everyone else and judge a book by its cover. To those who refuse to accept that the world is evolving, and without their massive cuntery, those changes might be for the better.
  15. To the fire fighters and other rescue services, thank you for your generosity, bravery and commitment to keeping us safe here in Australia.
  16. To the men who have shown empathy for the women who have been abused and betrayed by their gender, who have supported rather than doubted or torn them down. To the men who are determined to change toxic masculinity for their own benefit as well as ours, who knock back sexist jokes, who cry, who show their sons love and who share the emotional and physical load at home.
  17. To my readers and followers – thank you for putting up with my lack of filter, sweariness, biassed opinions and embarrassing need for attention. Thank you for validating my writing and making me feel more relevant.
  18. To the people who have made me laugh this year – Benjamin Law, Ricky Gervais, Daniel Sloss, the writers of Guilty Feminist, Wil Anderson and his Wilosophy, Kathy Lette and Tim Minchin, to name a few.
  19. To my health. Thank you to my body for putting up with the abuse I give it. Next year, I will not take it for granted as much and try to value each extra day that I am given.
  20. To my husband who puts up with my shit on a daily basis. I don’t tell him often how much I love him and appreciate him 1) because we’re reached that stage where we take each other for granted, and 2) because a lot of the time he irritates the fuck out of me. But evidently, the fact that we can still laugh together and at each other is the glue that has bound us together for another year.

A very Happy Christmas and New Year to everyone xx

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How A Small Part Of You Celebrates When A Friend Fails At Parenting, Too

Just as a small part of you dies when a friend succeeds, (according to Gore Vidal), a small part of me celebrates triumphantly when a friend fails spectacularly at parenting, like I have so many times. lightbulb_f1dsvUU__L

 

Do you know what has truly kept me sane through all these troubled ‘Kurt years’? It’s the support of friends, family, and you, my virtual friends, many of whom seem to understand, having shared similar parenting challenges.

 

Last weekend, having led an over-hasty, triumphant march on a recent post about Kurt’s progress into social acceptance, we were very quickly forced back into retreat; at least a thousand steps backwards, by my estimation, almost as soon as I’d typed those words of victory on my screen. It feels like the real life version of Snakes And Ladders in our family, and I know it’s part of the process and I’m not as affected as I would have been two years ago, nevertheless my Rosacea flared up this morning in protest and I’m still not sure if the red blotches are linked to stress, the cheap wine to compensate for happiness at the pub or the quantities of cheese I consumed to make myself feel better.

 

I need to remember that whenever one reaches a fork in the road, there is always a risk, that eventually we will learn from when we take the wrong turn. After the first painful few hours where my body went into shock, followed quickly by a meltdown of mammoth proportions, and finally acceptance – a feeling I can only compare to losing your right arm to a shark, but thanking God that you’re still alive – we have put another ‘plan’ in place.

 

There’s always another plan as parents. There has to be. This is our child. That is what we do. We love unconditionally.

 

The tricky part is finding the right balance between demonstrating a tough enough stance in the face of the severity of the behavior, without compromising on the unconditional love of being a parent.

 

Unfortunately, it seems that the day has yet to come where Kurt will wake up to a light bulb going on and the wires finally connecting; so in the meantime we wait. 

 

We have family and friends going through similar experiences as us, thank God; where parenting has become a scary rollercoaster ride of frightening unpredictability where no-one knows what happens next. And we all huddle together over wine when we get together and try to remain positive, but inside we die a little more with every backward step.

 

Those family and friends are probably closer to us because ‘craziness’ doesn’t fall far from the tree and ‘crazy’ tends to attract ‘crazy’. Whatever the reason, it’s great to have people you can admit your worst fears to, who you can describe the shame and the feelings of failure to, yet still laugh about it on occasion.

 

And they get it.

 

Yes, we are lucky to have a network of people surrounding us who get it, who make up for those who judge us and refuse to believe that we have tried everything or persist in blaming our poor parenting skills.

 

And I need to remember to reach out to that network when the shit hits the fan, because what I tend to do in those situations (which is why I’m like a fucking burst water pipe on this blog) is bottle up all the feelings of despair and failure and convince myself that no-one wants to hear it because there are many people with skeletons and terrible lives who are much worse off than us.

 

That I have no right to self-pity.

 

But to be honest, it’s not self-pity any more. It’s frustration, that no matter what I do, I can’t fix my son, and the best thing I can do for him is to fix how his decisions affect me and my sanity, to be a role model for love and kindness when he comes through the other side.

 

And in spite of the current puffiness of my face, that part is getting easier with a little help from my friends.

Superwomen, And How I Wish I Was A Woman Who Can

Superwoman (Kristin Wells)
Superwoman (Kristin Wells) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not a woman who can, but I know they exist. They’re not those ‘nauseating’ women who pride themselves on being seen to be perfect and stand outside the school gates at 8.30am looking polished; they are the women that drop everything to muck in and help out in a crisis.

They are the friends you know you can always rely on.

I don’t wish to sound defeatist, because there are a lot of things I CAN do very well – I’m actually quite practical around the house and good at fixing household stuff. I can change light bulbs, know where the fuse board is, I can hang pictures and eat a whole box of Jaffa cakes without vomming – but I don’t have the natural confidence or intuition of a woman in the kitchen.

(I can’t fix technology, either. Obviously.)

On Saturday we hosted a Spanish-themed luncheon for the old man’s new wine club, which sounds way more pretentious than it is, and is actually more akin to a women’s book club, where everyone discusses the book for all of five minutes and then gets onto the serious business of drinking, bitching about husbands, kids and housework.

We are new members of the wine club and eager to impress offered to host this meeting to get our feet well and truly under the table… because we love drinking wine. We thought that if we offered to host, it might put us in favour with the long-term members, who are much younger, trendier and far more interesting than the two of us.

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In my wisdom I decided that Spanish tapas would be an easy, stress-free choice for the menu. That was, until I found out on Friday afternoon that I would have to work on Saturday morning, which is when my carefully laid plans and sang-froid decided to fall apart.

You see, although I’m generally calm in a crisis – a bit worryingly calm, if you know what I mean – when twelve drunken, hungry faces are staring up at you from the dining table, even the coolest cucumber in the world can be shredded.

In hindsight, I should have made a casserole. Casseroles are perfect for catering for large numbers and I’m quite good at them. But no, I decided to do the one cuisine where everything has to be cooked in the last five minutes prior to serving.

I arrived home at 1pm and our guests were due to arrive at 2pm. Inevitably, the old man had not completed EVERYTHING on the MUST DO list I had left him that morning and was wandering up, dripping from his relaxing swim in the pool as my melt-down began to detonate in the kitchen.

Yet somehow I got through the next two hours, the canapés and a bottle of wine; the useful strategy of ‘denial’ helping when it came to any thoughts about the impending main course.

Eventually, of course, I had to go into my wardrobe-sized kitchen and produce something. Anything. I took a moment at the doorway, and stood there inwardly cursing myself for letting that last glass of wine slip so eagerly down my neck, feeling shell shocked at how much cooking chaos one person can create on one square metre of bench top when heating up a couple of boxes of Coles ready-made canapés. What would the judges on Masterchef say, I thought to myself, as I digested the fact that nothing was ready and it was already 4.30pm.

But luckily, I had a woman who can. A Superwoman.

‘What can I do?’ she gushed confidently, as she strode into the wardrobe and rescued the dripping, uncooked prawns out of my sweaty palms. ‘Ooooh, garlic prawns? My favourite. I make these all the time.’

I would have given that woman anything at that moment by way of thanks; even my husband if she’d wanted him. I offered.

And so she proceeded to take over my kitchen, as well as my luncheon. She had Kurt on the lamb kebabs before he had the chance to run away, while I stirred the meatballs to a pulp and peeled off all the potatoes that were stuck to the baking foil. Meanwhile, she knocked up the most perfectly seasoned garlic prawns I’ve ever tasted while tossing two salads, cutting bread, frying churros for dessert later and organising the men, who couldn’t even seat themselves without direction.

I wish I had the supreme confidence and likability of the woman who can walk into a kitchen, assess the damage and panic and command control without sounding like a c..t, to give the hostess the time to sober up pull herself together.

A Fine Bromance: Why Can’t Men Share Their Friends?

A Fine Bromance: Why Can't Men Share Their Friends
Three april fools looking at camera with different expressions

For those still oblivious to the intellectual stimulation to be had from the new Bachelorette series in Australia, you will remain unaware of the focus on the cute bromances between competing males than any hot and steamy love-making for our poor Bachelorette.

I think most woman have been surprised by how touchingly loyal and supportive a roomful of boys together can be. And how much they touch each other! What is more embarrassing to comprehend, is how much less confrontational the ambiance in the house is, compared to when it was full of women.

Although it’s still very early days…

My old man is a man’s man and has had his fair share of bromances, although he has only recently secured his friendship pack here.

Which means he must have dragged himself off the sofa and called them back at some point.

He plays golf with these bros, gets inebriated with them, discusses his relationship with them – well, I imagine the others do, while the old man smiles on stupidly – and at the end of the evening they all shake pinkies, do funny handshakes, hug or exchange blood to seal their friendship, come home and trip over the chest of drawers in their drunken effort not to give themselves away.

Because in Bachelorette terms, that would be breaking the bro code.

I didn’t think I’d mind if the old man eventually ‘got himself a life’ in Australia ie. some friends. I’ve never been the type of woman who wants to live in her man’s pockets and the evenings he’s out with the pack now, provide me with the perfect opportunity to test new Ben and Jerry flavours, drink Chardy and eat chocolate. To be honest, he has grieved for far too long over the loss of his university chums due to me ripping him away from the motherland to seek my own opportunities in Australia.

But there are two things I hate most about men and their bromances:

  1. How men are so super-defensive of their bros, can never be objective about them, and how whatever their mate says is always ‘gospel’ – like it makes complete sense, even though I’ve probably said the very same thing for the eons that constitute our marriage.
  2. How secretive they become about what goes on when they’re together. That ‘what happens on tour, stays on tour’ bullshit.

I had to cope with this type of irrational bromancing with his brother’s influence for the first ten years of marriage in the UK.

It went something like this:

I would suggest an idea, which the old man would respond to with ridicule, followed by one of those scathing looks (like I’d come from another planet), and he’d want to dismiss the idea instantly – I believe, because it had emanated from me.

Then he would go away to the bat cave, rub his forehead a few times, process and ruminate over the idea for a while – probably to try and think up a way he could make it his idea. When his brother suggested the exact same thing a day or so later, the old man would jump on it like it was the best, most innovative idea in the world, because suddenly it had come from a reliable source.

What is it with men and their ‘bromances’, that they always manipulate their groups into some male society that is exclusive and closeted and women-free? The old man’s social life for the past ten years has been facilitated by my friendships, my effort and the kindness of my friends who have taken pity on him, yet the minute a few guys take him in, our calendar is booked from here to eternity with boy golf days, boys nights out and general willy-holding sessions.

Why can’t men share their friends?

What Do You Buy For Your Best Friend’s 50th Birthday?

I never really got the hang of how to be a good girl friend.

What do you buy for your best friend's 50th birthday?
Found on everylastdetailblog.com

I’m not trying to make excuses, but what a lot of my girl friends don’t realize is that I’m actually a male in the guise of a woman and I have a very black and white approach to life. I don’t believe in stereotyping but I’ve had to learn the special female skills like how to do small talk without looking for the nearest escape route, how to feign interest in other people’s lives and children, even when those kids are fugly, how to hug people when I greet them and how to be intuitively thoughtful.   I still fail miserably a lot of the time but there is some hope.   The 50th birthday round has begun in my social group and one of my best friends celebrated this monstrous milestone last week.   What the fuck do you buy for your best friend’s 50th birthday? The pressure felt immense. We’ve reached that age where we pretty much buy what we need, know what we like and don’t like and are intolerant of gifts that don’t quite hit the mark.   I also knew that this time I had to get it right. I don’t think she ever went on that pole-dancing course…   A more expensive piece of jewellery than the usual Witchery earrings was the obvious and easiest choice. It would have said what I needed it to say – that I recognized that this was a special birthday for her and that she is special to me (blah, blah, blah!). But the problem is that I have a serious overthinking problem when I shop. I’m a perfectionist and always have a particular design or colour in mind that is impossible to find unless you have the budget for a custom-made from Tiffany, and so I soon realised that the Holy Grail of jewellery that would suit my friend and the old man’s budget, just didn’t exist.   I went back to the drawing board. I researched handbags, ‘experiences’ and beauty therapies, which I knew she’d love – being a real woman and all that – but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.   So I gave her a bag of goodies instead.   But, special goodies. What I hoped was that my little bag of goodies would show some thought and appeal to our shared sense of humor, but best of all, give her more than one present to open!   You see, we’ve been friends for an eternity.

What do you buy for your best friend's 50th birthday?
Found on Pinterest.com. Originally from Anthropologie.

Twenty years to be precise, since NC (was so small that she hadn’t even started organizing me yet) and her son were nine months old to be exact, so even though I might still be incapable of picking the perfect necklace for her, because we’ve grown up together, over many wonderfully boozy evenings (in the days when we still thought we could change the world together), we’ve managed to work out the best things in life.   So that was my theme. I bought six gifts and numbered them as the things every woman needs in middle age.   In no particular order, they were:

  1. Good wine, shared with friends who know which wine hits your spot – in our case, a bottle of Scarborough Chardonnay (www.scarboroughwine.com.au)
  2. Something to keep you feeling sexy – the bigger the better! – if it had been me I would have gone straight for the Agent Provocateur but my friend is a little more classy so I picked some Elle ‘The Body’ McPherson boy-leg lacy briefs
  3. A hobby – my friend plays tennis so I bought her some tennis balls
  4. Beautiful jewellery – a pair of modern silver and pearl earrings
  5. Loads of cheese – she’s a cheese guzzler, this mate of mine, especially with a few Chardies inside her and I found this super-cute triangular cheese board from Salt and Pepper (www.saltandpepper.com.au). We do cheese together really well.
  6. Family – my friend lives by the beach and I found two really cute snow-globe-style photo frames with sand and small shells at the bottom and I put a photo of her with each of her children in each.

    What do you buy for your best friend's 50th birthday?
    Found on http://www.saltandpepper.com.au

Do you have any idea how hard it is to buy underwear for another woman – even one you think you know really well?   I admit that the organization of this gift was so uncharacteristically thoughtful for me I might have vommed cried a little as I wrapped up the pressies. She means a lot to me, this gal.   But surely that much attention to detail means I’m becoming more girly…even… growing up?   But before I finish, I must tell you about the last time I surprised this friend with a goodie bag. We were in our early thirties and I’m embarrassed to admit that I included a packet of Marlborough Lights in the bag back then. I’ll never forget that day because she was stuck at home on an uncharacteristically, stinky hot day in London with a baby with chicken pox, (that she had caught too), yet for some reason decided that a polka dot bikini would make an excellent fashion accessory.   Since then I have laughed hard many times with her.   The greatest gift she was given for her fiftieth birthday was a grandson, a few weeks before.   How far we’ve come.

I’ve Never Been Very Good At The Whole Friendship Thing.

Far too long ago, my virtual friend and blogger, Michelle Weaver from Pinky Poinker nominated me for a blogging award. To fulfil the award I needed to tell my readers several things about myself that they might not know already.

 

I’m pretty candid on this blog so most of you know most of my sordid secrets but one topic I do shy away from are my thoughts on friendships.

Friendship, Göteborg, Sweden
Friendship, Göteborg, Sweden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

I’ve never been very good at the whole friendship thing.

 

 

 

Then I stumbled across this quote from Meryl Streep this week, and it summed up exactly how I feel at this moment in my life, about how my relationships with friends and my tolerances in life have changed with middle age. I couldn’t have verbalised it more succinctly myself.

 

“I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me. I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.”

 

It might be argued that Meryl has far more reason to feel arrogant about her lot than I do with mine, but like her, I can’t be assed with things that I take no pleasure from these days. In the past I’ve tried to attract friends through wining and dining them and pretending to be much more fun than I am, but I’ve come to realise that faking it doesn’t cultivate long-term friendships and many abuse that strategy anyway.

 

Which is how I’ve reached this point in my life where I’m finally brave enough to accept that if people don’t like me, I won’t slink away with my pride in pieces – we are all very different as people, have come from very different nurtures and developed very different nuances to our personalities and sometimes they simply don’t gel. It’s not that I don’t care, but I don’t want to waste any more time trying to please people who don’t have a natural connection with me – because a forged connection cannot be sustained anyway.

 

Italiano: Stella di Meryl Streep sulla Hollywo...
Italiano: Stella di Meryl Streep sulla Hollywood Walk of Fame, Los Angeles (California) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like Meryl, I am drawn to intelligent people – that is to people I can learn from whether that is intellectual intelligence or emotional intelligence. They certainly don’t have to be academically brilliant. But I won’t tolerate arrogance of any sort either. I have always despised competition and confrontation and nothing makes me put my runners on faster than feeling that friends are competing with me or if I feel a pressure to compete with them.

 

I am absolutely the worst friend you could have, in many ways. My few close friends will vouch for that.  I forget birthdays, I am crap at being thoughtful and I never phone anyone unless it is an emergency or I need something from them. But I won’t ever let my friends down either. I am loyal to the point of stupidity, like a puppy dog, and it takes a lot to push me away as a friend. However, once that trust is broken, I will walk away and never come back.

 

I tire of people who only talk about themselves and never ask questions about me or mine, or who make assumptions about how I think when they know nothing about my skeletons. And I am super-sensitive to negativity because it wields a power over me that can drag me down into the reeds below until I can’t breathe, which is why I try to avoid it these days. Like Meryl, I judge people on their reaction to animals and the way they treat and talk about their friends.

 

In a nutshell, I don’t ‘suffer fools’, and that’s probably why I’ve never been very good at the whole friendship thing.

 

Dear Facebook…About Those Perfect Family Holiday Photos

Dear Facebook,

 

Why do you insist on tormenting me?

 

While the rest of the world (it appears) is basking in the Mediterranean sun in the Northern Hemisphere, we freeze (our nuts off) in unseasonably cold weather down south, yet you force me to gaze on the exotic and ‘perfect’ holiday photos of people I once knew to be friends, on a daily basis.

 

 

Dear Facebook...About Those Perfect Family Holiday Photos
Jumping in Puddles by Nick Page at http://www.flickr.com

 

I am not an envious person and do not covet what others have, generally, yet I am also not a fucking saint. Which is why I am finding it increasingly hard on these chilly winter mornings to feel happy for my so-called friends while they rub suntan lotion into their sun-kissed bodies, languish on exotic beaches, frolic in the ocean, sup on cocktails and enjoy those pivotal family moments that only holidays in the sun can capture.

 

Frankly, I don’t want to see how much better my friends are ageing or look in a bikini and I certainly don’t need to be reminded about how successfully they’ve parented their children, before my first coffee of the day. Especially when my children would rather kill themselves than pose in a ‘happy family’ photo with us.  Does that make me a really shit parent? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?

 

Even worse are the photos of my old stomping ground in London, where so many of my Aussie friends have migrated for winter. There’s only so much I can take of them waxing lyrical about what a wonderful a city it is and their question as to why on earth I moved away in the first place.

 

I know that in reality, golden, tanned skin is more symptomatic of skin cancer than glowing health and that in the long term binge-gorging on food and alcohol is not the secret to happiness, but after two arduous months of wearing boots and lip balm, I am ready to risk it and chafe my skin, burn my toes in hot sand and add a few extra crows feet to my alabaster face for the sake of some precious vitamin D. I think I could forget all my troubles via a chilled Mojito or eight, served by a Greek Adonis, too.

 

 

There are only so many happy underwater family snorkelling shots I can stomach as I toil through exam time back here in the cold with a teenager who is hell-bent on failing life, self-destruction and taking me with him in the process. If I see one more photo of iridescent, tropical fish swimming in crystal clear waters, (presumably unaware that their fate will be sealed in the fishing net of some chirpy Ketut-type tour guide later that day, who feigns to like working for over-pampered tourists for the minimum wage, while his own family starve), or lavish beachside barbies full of grilled, iridescent fish, I will vomit into my flu remedy.

 

I know that I don’t HAVE TO torment myself mercilessly by subjecting myself to this daily torture, and that you have kindly given me the option to change my Facebook settings, but I am a weak and vulnerable person whose only latent talent in life seems to be the ability to live vicariously through my old friends. And you prey on that talent.

 

Regards,

 

Bitter and Twisted, Sydney

 

The Seven Year Itch

Terrace Houses
Terrace Houses

So, we are leaving the Beaches in search of streets paved with gold (and no doubt littered with syringes) in the Big Smoke. The choice is one of circumstance, not because we are in any way unhappy here, which makes it emotionally harder.

For me.

I would be lying if I didn’t mention that, of course, when we held our annual Christmas drinks last Sunday, the old man was rubbing his hands with glee in the secret knowledge that none of our guests realised that this was actually a drinks/farewell party, as well as a seasonal jolly.

I’ve mentioned the old man’s social anxiety (here), which dovetails rather nicely with my propensity for itchy feet. We have to have nurtured this five to seven year ‘flight’ plan during our over-extended marriage. We move, we settle, we make friends and then we f*ck off to pastures new. It is a behavior that sates my need for adventure and impulsivity and the old man’s need for anonymity….for a precious short time. It is possibly the singular most important factor for keeping our marriage just shy of the ‘green mould’ stage, (apart from secret passion for Macdonalds).

And each time we decide to move (and even though I have generally precipitated it), when the decision has been approved and the lease signed, and I finally consider the consequences of the impulsivity of my rash behavior and throw my hands in the air and have one of my prima donna hissy fits about not having any friends AGAIN, (and no doubt rant and wail about how absolutely hopeless the old man is in cultivating friends and how I simply don’t have the energy this time to go through the whole faking rigmarole another time), he just smiles knowingly.

And rubs his hands with glee, again. Because he knows that for a while he will have his safe little lost unit of four, depending on him again. No new faces = no stress in his world, other than the stress of having to listen to me despair every Saturday night about how boring he is and how we have become nomads with no mates, and how will I cope?

This will be a tough one, this move. This house was supposed to be our last before we retired to our palatial penthouse apartment in Palm Beach once the rock star has earned his fortune and repaid his debts; the house with the in-built coffee machine, customized sofas and matching remote controlled reclining armchairs.

The old man, in an uncharacteristically benevolent mood, has promised me new sofas from Domayne if our existing ones don’t fit through the dolls house doors of our new terraced rental and promised to take me to the cinema once a month to counterbalance our new status of social outcasts.

Terrace Houses courtesy of Bjarte Sorensen at www.flickr.com