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.

Flying, And The Criminal Act Of Exceeding Your Baggage Allowance

Last week was not an easy one in terms of anxiety, because I had a flight booked at the end of it. So what should have been a week of relaxation – the first of (for the most part) a two-week staycation – culminated in sleepless nights as I catastrophized about the terrifying superpowers of seagulls, Trump’s craziness, and the week of unsettling windy weather that settled upon Sydney.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

I have never liked the wind – especially when I’m about to board a plane – so it’s not surprising that my anxiety levels had hit the roof by the time I reached the airport on Friday morning and learnt that my flight was delayed by three hours as a result of strong winds. This news, on the back of a week of menacing emails from my airline about my baggage allowance sent me straight to the airport bar – answering my question of who the fuck drinks at ten in the morning.

As an increasingly intolerant middle-aged woman, I am highly appreciative of good customer service ie. follow up emails about the details of my flight, special offers etc. However, I do not appreciate being hounded to “manage” my travel booking on an hourly basis, especially when we all know that “manage” is airline code for getting you to spend more money.

I’m not certain which part my airline didn’t understand about my choice of the cheapest flights to get me from a to b for the weekend, but obviously they still believed they could bully me into purchasing their soggy banana bread, my seat on the plane – or extra legroom – or some extra weight allowance for my baggage.

‘We noticed that you only have 7kg of baggage,’ they warned me threateningly in several emails leading up to my departure, as if the worry associated with getting on a plane and expecting it to stay in the sky wasn’t bad enough.

What they no doubt didn’t realise was that the words “baggage allowance” are already a trigger for me since my last trip to Queensland, when I mistakenly picked the standard 7kg max baggage allowance option without really understanding what the weight means in woman terms; henceforth initiating a personal quest to fit in every variable of clothing, beauty product, and accessory I might need for two days into my tiny case. Fortunately for me, my talent for being such a stickler for detail (AKA anxious), meant that my baggage did come in around the 6.99kg mark at its final weigh-in – something to do with wearing eight of my twelve outfits, I imagine. But then my sister foiled my plan by returning a book to me at the airport – the thickest fucking novel ever – and insisting that I take it home.

That weekend marked the start of new rules imposed by domestic airlines about hand luggage allowances and I was hauled over the coals publicly for being a few grammes over my allowance and forced to layer my last four outfits before they would allow me on board.

Not that I disapprove of the new laws. It used to get on my tits whenever passengers turned up with whole sets of suitcases as hand luggage.

But that’s why this time I was on guard. I took a large bag as opposed to a small suitcase – which weigh around 2.5kg before you put anything in them, ie. an entire outfit option including boots – and I started to pack my bag several days before I was leaving, safe in the knowledge that should I veer over my cheapskate limit, I could always leave my niece and sister’s gifts behind.

However, that didn’t stop me fretting and waking up at night to obsessively-compulsively re-measure the Borrower-sized quantities of my beauty products and re-weigh my bag. Stupid, really. I mean, it’s all a load of bollocks in the grand scheme of things, isn’t it? Because when I’m up there in the sky at the mercy of the elements, or birds – seagulls, I presume – that fly into the plane’s engines, Kamikaze-style – will whether I packed both sets of hair straighteners really make a difference to my chances of survival?

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?

It Must Suck To Be A Vegetarian At Christmas

I never thought I’d say this, but for once I find myself in total agreement with my father’s view that political correctness has gone mad.

According to The Independent newspaper in the UK, a researcher has proposed that idioms such as “bringing home the bacon” and “flogging a dead horse” should be removed from the English language because the imagery they create is offensive and upsetting to vegans and vegetarians.

Veganism is on the increase, and at a time when some celebrate Veganuary and it’s just as easy to buy veggie burgers and sausages in supermarkets as the genuine dead animal, while I agree that an awareness of the sensitivities of others is important, where does it end?

The next step will be to stop insulting plant life as well, because surely, “as thin as a twig” has to be body shaming to the twig in the same way that the accusation of being “as red as a beetroot” is typically used as a derogatory observation.

It’s never easy to make a stand for your beliefs – particularly when it comes to food choices and intolerances – in the face of, (shall we say), old-fashioned principles. However, sometimes Karma has a funny way of evening the score. And one of those times took place during my recent holiday as my father reached into the fridge for a swig of orange juice one morning and grabbed at my carton of almond milk instead.

A smile may have crossed my lips as I watched him spit the offensive liquid over the kitchen floor after the barrage of insults inflicted on both NC and myself in relation to our dietary choices – hers vegetarian, and mine dairy-free.

For this is a man who prides himself on being a “war baby,” and hence, eats everything – a fact that was rammed down my throat as a child every time I refused to clear my plate of food – which was often because there is NOTHING (shudder) the man will not eat.

“Sell-by” and “best before” dates are ridiculed in his house. Indeed, the more moldy and unappealing a piece of food appears, the more gusto the man demonstrates in its consumption.

That was why I was careful to remind him about NC’s vegetarianism prior to our arrival – she only eats fish when she feels like it is pushed – a warning that was met by the usual muffled grumblings of disgust. And when I went on to inform him that I was currently dairy-free – for health reasons – I’m certain that his derogatory whoop of disgust traveled from the northern to the southern hemisphere with the speed of light.

If I’m honest, I knew that I was pushing my luck when I requested vegan cheese and almond milk – although anyone would think my request was that he smuggle a stash of heroin through Bali rather than be seen buying vegan cheese from Waitrose.

For, as I suspected, it is still not deemed fully socially acceptable in some circles of the UK to be vegetarian or lactose intolerant, which makes it tricky to eat out. Added to which, the British diet is influenced by the climate and is heavily laden with meat. But while the word tofu may still be met with some confusion, I did manage to find a decent coffee with rice-coconut milk as a substitute and we were also introduced to a fabulous veggo restaurant near Oxford Circus called Ethos. And trust me, there’s no danger of getting fat there either because they charge you by the weight of your plate.

I pity vegans, particularly at this time of the year.

A roast without meat, (or in Australia, shellfish and salads, but without the shellfish), is nothing to get excited about at Christmas lunch, and neither is Mum’s nut roast substitute that everyone knows is little more than reconstituted stuffing.

But, each to their own.

Poor NC remained admirably stoic as her Grandad ranted off a list of sustainable fish to her every mealtime while we stayed with him – a list he had learned by heart in an attempt to either understand or ridicule her beliefs – I’m not sure which. And as I watched him force-feed her prawns and mussels, he made me swear to consume every last morsel of vegan cheese from the fridge prior to my departure, just in case it contaminated the dead animals.

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!

 

 

Sharing Your Fantasies On A Middle-Aged Weekend Getaway

She luxuriated in the fresh white cotton bedlinen of their four-poster bed as she looked up at him.  He lay over her, on his haunches, a quizzical look on his face, the muscles of his arms twitching. He was still beguilingly ripped for a middle-aged man.

breakfast-1246686__340.jpg

She shivered as she watched him devour her body with his eyes, lifting his face back up to hers before they reached her belly. She couldn’t believe how big he looked above her, or how small she felt beneath him as the morning light bathed the room around them, highlighting the perfect angle of his beer belly.

‘Tell me what you want?’ he murmured into her ear again, before gazing back down at her body admiringly. Was that hunger in his eyes?

She turned her head to one side, feeling shy all of a sudden. As she felt her hot red cheek cool on the sheets beneath her, she thought about how to tell him.

‘Come on,’ he begged, tracing a finger from her chins down to her cleavage. ‘Tell me. I told you, this weekend is about you.’

‘I can’t,’ she admitted, coyly, still averting her eyes.  ‘It’s embarrassing.’ She bit her lip, forgetting for one moment how much that excited him. Could she really be that honest?

‘I want what you want…’ he persevered, stroking her hair with his builder’s hands.

‘Really?’ she giggled nervously, still unable to look up at him, the image in her head so naughty somehow, and yet too delicious not to share. It had been so long… and wasn’t that why they were here, she justified.

‘Of course. I’ve told you,’ he said, patiently. Whatever makes you happy makes me happy,’ he repeated, lowering his eyes to her breasts… and then lower. ‘Tell me what your fantasy is. Tell me what is going through your mind right now,’ he pushed her, licking his lips.

‘Okay, but you have to promise me not to be disappointed.’

‘How could I ever be disappointed in you, silly?’ he asked as she felt the heat of his desire push against her thigh and saw his eyes melt to liquid chocolate. She knew she had to be brave.

‘Bacon,’ she said, closing her eyes.

‘Bacon,’ he repeated slowly with a sigh, closing his eyes, his breathing suddenly heavier. Lowering his body closer to hers, she could smell last night’s three pints and Jalfrezi on his breath as he asked in a sultry voice – ‘Streaky or back?’ 

‘Back,’ she giggled, aware of the sudden warmth between her legs as she said the word. Had she really said it out loud? She began to stroke the insides of his arms as he flexed them above her.

‘What else?’ he asked, a discernible quiver in his voice, his body beginning to move rhythmically against hers.

‘Mushrooms,’ she said, losing focus on his arms as an image of the fungi exploded into her brain.

‘Grilled?’

‘Fried,’ she answered in a guttural voice, her eye now firmly on the prize. ‘In butter. Yes! In butter,’ she gushed, raising her body to meet his, ‘with perhaps a pinch of Tarragon.’ 

‘Sausages?’ he suggested hoarsely, his hot breath on her face as his body searched hers, more roughly now, but touching her exactly where she needed him.

‘Yes, sausages!’ she repeated confidently before she shrank back into the pillow, her hand over her mouth. ‘Cumberland,’ she added, in a quieter voice. ‘Thick, moist… and floating in brown sauce.’ She enunciated the word moist slowly, secretly delighting in the look of pain that shot across his face. 

‘Now?’ he panted, unable to disguise the hope in his voice.

‘Not yet,’ she said, close.

‘What else?’ he asked, his voice strained as she heard him breathe in her skin.’

‘Those crispy potato things,’ she said, her voice rising with the increase in her heart rate, her brain unable to think clearly anymore. ‘What are they called?’ she asked him, her back arching, her body reaching for him impatiently. ‘WHAT ARE THEY CALLED?’ she screamed, soaring.

‘Hashbrowns?’

‘YES!  HASH. FUCKING. BROWNS! YES! YES! YES!

‘And eggs? Surely we need eggs?’ he shouted, panic in his voice as he looked down at her face for reassurance.

‘Fried!’ they shouted jubilantly, jumping out of bed to head down to breakfast.

 

 

 

 

Anxiety, Stupidity, And Why The Next Time I Leave The House Will Be In A Casket

After what feels like an interminable period of drought, Sydney has been hampered by the kind of rains we usually only see on Christmas Day, at birthday parties or weddings over the past few days. Unlike my British alter-ego, I have come to enjoy the rain here – a few precious days when I can’t fry eggs on my cheeks and sleep peacefully at night. However, as in most over-populated cities of the world, rain and public transport become an interesting partnership.

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I thought I’d come to terms with the fact that it’s better that I don’t leave the house, so call it whimsy or plain stupidity, it was nevertheless an unusual decision to visit the city for an exhibition yesterday, on one of the aforementioned rainy days.

 

Okay – so it might have had something to do with work.

 

Fortunately, my confidence was buoyed by a brand new bus system, recently installed from Forgottensville to the Big Smoke. Thanks to another government incentive to blow our taxes on worthless pieces of shit ensure that us country folk get to work on time, we now have canary-yellow, double-decker buses (that scream “poor”) and drive at breakneck speed down our bus lanes – until, inevitably,  something gets in their way. So, in contrast to the old horse and cart days, the journey now takes around an hour and nine minutes, rather than the previous hour and ten.

 

I’m certain that when that government official in transport drew up the plan and came up with the innovative idea of limited stops, the fact that there is only one main arterial road into the city from our neck of the beach must have slipped his mind – although the USB points are a nice touch. And as I sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, avoiding knee contact with the hot guy next to me, and waving along the selfish pricks in cars ahead of us in the bus lane, (unnecessarily polluting the atmosphere with their 4x4s), only a game of Watching Weird People On Buses kept me sane.

 

To cut a very long (and I fear, tedious) story short, no one informed me that the bells on these new-wave buses with limited stops, actually serve a purpose. I had made the foolish assumption that the bus would stop at each limited stop, and as we sailed past my stop, (and the agreed location for the pick up for the next stage of my mammoth trek), I might have panicked a little – a panic that I was conscious of not allowing my fellow passengers to witness. I mean, how could I publicly demonstrate the rarity with which I use this outdated and highly inefficient mode of transport? That would be owning up to my own private guilt for billowing gallons of the cheapest fuel into our atmosphere in my own 4×4; worse, it would highlight my stupidity.

 

For it has come to my attention, that since I turned fifty, I am indeed becoming more stupid, in rather pitiful, doolally, blonde, kind of way.

 

To make matters worse, in my rush to get off the bus first, I had scrambled out of my seat embarrassingly prematurely so as not to miss my stop, which meant that EVERYONE knew that I was stupid. And I couldn’t shout across the fifty or so miserable Monday morning faces in front of me to accuse the driver  – I say, young man, but I think you missed my stop – because bus drivers, like medical receptionists, are an inherently grumpy breed, borne of coping with fare dodgers, drunks, and hypochondriacs every day – although I hasten to add that I have never dodged a fare.

 

Dumped at the next stop in the rain with the self-acceptance that I am not safe to leave the house again – or indeed be left on my own at any time again – and with no clue where I was, I drowned my sorrow in a surprisingly tasty Maccas coffee. And as I sat there, berating myself for my limited understanding of both Google maps and Uber, (whilst privately congratulating myself that I have the apps on the home page (?) of my phone), I reached a life-changing decision. The next time I leave the house will be in a casket.

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.

Not Exactly Leaving The Nest…But Close

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I drove NC to the airport at stupid o’clock this morning. They might not have flown the nest quite yet, but it turns out we have two budding explorers in the family, and from the perspective of two parents that rarely leave the house these days, I see their recent adventures as a reaffirmation that not only have we done something right as parents, but that we also haven’t passed on our anxiety about passing on our anxieties about flying, leaving our suburb, or indeed our house, onto our children. It is rather a lovely surprise to find out that your kids have some talents after all.

 

Lucky NC! She is about to embark on a two-week science trip via ship from Perth to Tasmania. The focus of the trip is …I’ll pretend I care …is for this fine group of young academics to take ocean samples and readings, review currents and then analyze all of their exciting data for entertainment in the evenings. Ie. Nerdy stuff that I suppose someone’s got to do to educate us about how to best protect our dying planet.

 

As long as she doesn’t take us through her photos when she gets back, I can deal.

 

As you can possibly imagine, personally I would prefer to give birth naturally whilst having my wisdom teeth removed than sail through what is renowned to be a treacherous channel of water, and as a fussy vegetarian with no alcohol on board for the whole two weeks with which to sustain her bird-like frame, I fear I may miss her if she accidentally stands sideways in the baggage hall when I go to collect her.

 

Meanwhile, Kurt, not to be outdone by his sister, has displayed some similarly impressive home-pigeon skills this week.

 

Understandably, since our move out of the city and into the sticks, it has taken the boy a few weeks to accept his fate of living in Woop Woop to get his bearings and adjust to the slower, less reliable public transport system on offer here. And, needless to say, he has faced a few challenges getting home.

 

Fortunately, however, one of the positives about the ADHD brain is the sheer will and determination to follow through to the end with stupid decisions once you make them, and never before has he demonstrated this as clearly as last week’s return journey home from a mid-week party, approximately eighty kilometers away.

 

What you have to understand is, I can probably count on one hand the number of times Kurt has actually stayed over at a friend’s house or party. His intention is always to sleep on the couch, but as a full paid-up, middle-class Millennial with anxiety and OCD issues, couch-surfing is never really gonna happen.

 

I did remind him of this problem as he left for the party. ‘Well, I’ll have to stay,’ he grunted. ‘How else am I going to get back?’

 

How else indeed? I remember thinking.

 

He phoned me just after midnight to ask if I would transfer the money for an Uber because he couldn’t stay at the party. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘It’s complicated,’ he replied by way of an explanation. There followed half an hour of wrangling about the financials – my reasons of why he had to stay versus his reasons why he wouldn’t.

 

Any parent will know that sleep is much more important than instigating sound parenting policy at 1am and so by 1.30am I cracked, living up to my Weak McWeak nickname – kindly given to me by the old man – and I transferred a loan, upon which my son’s phone died and the old man threatened divorce again.

 

The money got Kurt about twenty kilometres from home – a fact I was ignorant of as I lay in bed worrying – after which he decided to walk the remainder of the journey until he found an old bike on the side of the road (regular readers of my blog will know that this is becoming a familiar story) and then proceeded to cycle what is predominantly an uphill journey over the sandstone rock landscape that much of Sydney is built upon.

 

Stopped by the police a few kilometers from home and asked the usual question – ‘Got any Cannabis on you, son?’ – Kurt suggested that their inquiry wreaked of harassment, and they let him go. Kurt has a psychopathic distrust of the police due to a humiliating and highly unorthodox body search in the back of a police van a year or so ago.

 

My son walked in the door at 4.30am, straight into the shitstorm caused by being such a selfish twat the arms of his loving, very understanding mum.

When You’re Still Going To The Zoo At Fifty!

Sydney holds its Vivid Festival at this time of the year – a two-week extravaganza where the city is lit up with, well…lights, and luckily for us, a friend of mine organised tickets for us to celebrate this year’s celebrations at Taronga Zoo.

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Crikey! Crocs!

I like zoos and the old man could hardly contain his excitement as we sat in traffic on the way there. Interestingly, we were the only adults without small children at the event, even though several sets of parents offered us theirs, for forever.  And I admit, that there were moments in between the ‘wows’ and whoops of joy that came from the whole city’s population of children, when the old man and I asked ourselves why the fuck we weren’t in the pub drinking wine.

The event also confirmed my suspicion that Australia has a fascination with crocodiles, which is fortunate because the likelihood is that they will soon be running the country. Where in the past, crocodiles were only found in Northern Queensland, they have headed further south since culling was deemed politically incorrect and their lives became more highly valued than those of the human population. The nation also suspects that they can do a better job of controlling terrorism than our current leader, so I envisage a Planet of The Apes-style takeover, once they decide that feeding off tourists (stupid enough to get into the water at night) isn’t enough of a Masterchef experience.

When we were in Port Douglas recently, I was informed that the reason the locals don’t swim in the ocean has, in fact, nothing to do with the Box Jelly Fish or Irukandji, and more to do with the saltwater crocs that have taken up surfing. The old man says it was the wine, but I swear I spotted one waiting for me in the water beneath our restaurant one evening, licking its lips in readiness for the curves of my newly acquired size 16 body.

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Her Cuteness, who has her aunt’s penchant for sparkles

Only a month or so before that I was on the Sunshine Coast visiting my sister and my niece – Her Cuteness -who we took to the zoo one day to while away the toddler-awake hours before we could open the wine. Australia Zoo is the one set up by the Irwin family – basically the Royal Family here, who will ultimately replace the national emblem on our passports and citizen certificates as well as the various luminaries on our bank notes.  Once you get past the cheesiness and outright terror of the bronze version of this iconic family, Bindi’s dancing and the nauseating sight of green safari suits on every child – could this be a job for VB? – the space is a wonderful representation of Australian wildlife, and in particular of those animals that like to eat us.

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The terrifying Irwin Family

As you might be aware, Steve Irwin had a bit of a thing about crocs and his party piece was to taunt them with meat and then capture them in a testosterone-fuelled display of Australian maleness, and this still goes on in the show, only his offspring have since taken over the mantle. I tried not to think it, but there was a tiny part of me that hoped for a croc win that day as we sat in the blistering heat and watched Robert and Bindi play hide and seek with those poor – toothless, I suspect – crocs.

Fortunately, there is a lot more to see than drugged up reptiles and nocturnal animals that refuse to play ball and look alert when toddlers poke, prod and force feed them. In fairness, I was quite impressed by the spacious green plains for the larger animals and my niece had all her dreams come true when she discovered that the real Kings of the jungle (in the minds of most cute two-year-olds) – the ponies – were offering rides. And while I fretted about the potential nit hazard of hundreds of little kids all sharing the same riding helmets, my sister’s chest filled with pride.

How To Show Restraint At The Inclusive Hotel Buffet Breakfast

fried-1789962_1920I’d never noticed before that skinny women only eat fruit at the hotel buffet breakfast, but since NC kindly (?) gave me my FitBit for Mothers Day, I’ve become much more conscious of the number of calories going into my body versus calories being burned.

 

Due to medical reasons pertaining to my mental health, I have to allocate a large percentage of my daily intake of calories to wine each day, so I need to watch carefully how much and what type of food I put into my mouth – especially with the added complications of middle-aged hormone fuckery. And possessing that level of control is not always easy on holiday where the ‘fuck it’ attitude kicks in the minute you step off the plane and all traces of accountability disappear.

 

The old man and I haven’t stayed in a hotel with inclusive breakfast for years (because…children), so this holiday has provided me with the biggest test on the food frontline since my last working lunch, when our boss used to provide enormous catered trays of sandwiches and cakes and I had to physically pinch the skin on my thighs to stop eating.

 

Since the early days of our marriage, the old man and I have maintained the same strategy when it comes to the hotel buffet breakfast – which is to eat as much as we can so we don’t have to pay for lunch. In hindsight, a strategy that rarely actually works.

 

It took me the first three days of this holiday to work out my buffet breakfast plan for the rest of the week, after a few false starts where all my self-coaching on the plane fell apart as soon as I approached the breakfast area and my natural mindset of Labrador set in. Most women will recognize that it is almost impossible to resist a line of FREE food that you haven’t had to either plan, cook or shop for – particularly one which offers a smorgasbord of food you normally deny yourself, the morning after that first night of holiday drinking – another of those traps you swear you won’t fall into until Happy Hour swings around at 4pm and the lure of half-price cocktails proves impossible to ignore.

 

I’m being hard on myself. I did show some self-control in my choice of fruit as my starter, (rather than the huge bowl of Coco Pops I would normally berate Kurt for), before I headed for the full, cholesterol breakfast, finished off by toast, no Nutella, and washed down with three cups of Earl Grey.

 

Only four mini chocolate croissants made their way back to our room.

 

I’m not sure why we live this lie each hotel holiday that the buffet breakfast will suffice until dinner, because inevitably the ‘FEED ME!’ belly grumbles always kick in around 1pm as those first wafts of lunch make their way around the pool.

 

But today I demonstrated REAL restraint. I accepted that after three hours of hard work lying on a sunbed, I have a right to feel a little peckish around lunchtime, and I refuse to beat myself up about it. I am aware that lifestyle changes – particularly in regard to diets – need to be permanent, rather than half-hearted efforts here and there. And so I became a responsible eater this morning – mature enough to look beyond the sausages and potato croquettes, to think about the bigger picture of my health and weight beyond this week of testing temptation. And frankly, the bacon and eggs were enough.