We Can All Be Heroes, Without Firing A Single Bullet

Today makes me sad. Anzac Day confuses me because it forces me to question the sacrifice of those millions of men and women that gave up their lives to protect our future. And what makes it worse, is that so many more of them continue to risk their lives for the same empty promises.

Kids On Guns Hill by Banksy from Pinterest and mymodernmet.com

We like to call them heroes, but I’m certain that many of the men conscripted in the two World Wars would have preferred to stay at home, get married, and see their children grow up, while here we are, still living in fear of terrorism and war.

In many parts of the world, war remains a reality of daily life, and more often than not, the bigger players that instigate it don’t stick around long enough to pick up the pieces once they leave. Innocent people continue to be discriminated against – just like the Jews in World War 2. Even in the West, (in our so-called “democracies”), man’s overwhelming greed for power and control blinds it to the cost of human life as countries are disabled by religion and race.

Surely, the best way to honour the dead and our forces today is by demonstrating to them that their sacrifice was worth it? That we have learned from it? And let’s also teach our kids that heroes can be people who use their voice for change as well; who stand against discrimination, without firing a single bullet.

10 Things Australia Should Be Proud Of…

Image of Bronte rock pool.
Image from Unsplash

Australia has been through the wringer lately. If we are to believe the daily news, we’ve not had a lot to be proud of lately. The incarceration of Rolf Harris has been followed up with an embarrassing succession of prime ministers – most of whom have yet to prove that they are any wiser than their predecessors – we’ve had some fairly average sports performances (and questionable sportsmanship from a country in which sport anchors the culture), as well as some fairly damning criticism of our treatment of refugees and women.

To add salt to the wound, this week The Guardian chronicled a scathing report of our historical, systematic abuse of Aboriginals. And that’s without even mentioning George Pell – a blight on Catholicism who refuses to be put away quietly, in spite of his CONVICTION for sexually abusing minors.

From the perspective of a migrant, I can confirm that the rest of the world used to see Australia as a land of opportunity, with an enviable work/life balance and the kind of chilled temperament that comes from a close-to-perfect climate. So, what’s gone wrong?

In our defence, the proverbial shit hasn’t only targeted our fan of late. Frankly, the international stage is in a mess when it comes to political players, environmental responsibility and our uneasy confrontation of the truths about sexual abuse.

But while the naysayers and harbingers of doom in the Twitter-sphere suggest that we are close to Armageddon, I’m here to reassure you that we’re not even close. Not if the tears shed during the first few chords of “We Are Australian” are anything to go by.

Which is why, sometimes, it’s important to step back and look at where we’ve come from vis a vis where we are now. Because we are moving forwards, not backwards – albeit at a slower pace than many of us would like. And in a climate such as the current one, it can be easy to forget about the good stuff, even when all evidence suggests that our values are changing for the better.

Deservedly, there is deep pride of this country, that is sometimes misinterpreted as nationalism, but which (I’m certain for the average Aussie) is far more representative of gratitude. We know how lucky we are. It’s just that like many countries, we recognise that we are in what will be documented as a period of self-correction, recalibration and change, as a result of recent progressive leaps in the identification and awareness of inequalities.

No one is perfect, but like a puzzle, it is the assembly of the many small pieces that creates the bigger picture. And most of our small pieces are good. So, let’s hold our heads high and be proud of who we are as we strive towards self-improvement. Self-reflection and evaluation are critical areas of personal development in any job – and they are just as necessary for countries to evolve as optimism and self-congratulation are when they are deserved.

But if like me, you feel a bit meh each morning when you open the news page on your computer to the latest shock headline about what Australia is doing wrong, or where we’re behind the rest of the world, here’s a reminder of ten things we can still be proud of:

  1. Giving everyone “a fair go”– One of the beliefs in Australia is that everyone should be given a fair go. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But for Australians, is is a value they try to uphold.
  2. We thank our bus drivers for doing their job – Getting on and off the public buses, Australians make a point of thanking the driver for their service. It is an example of a small token of gratitude that demonstrates the respect they hold for each other.
  3. We provide food at lunch and dinner invitations to take the pressure off the host. We’ve also borrowed the US tradition of preparing a roster of home-cooked meals to people that are sick.
  4. Our customer service has to be one of the best in the world. When we first visited, the optimism and smiles of retail and hospitality staff were one of the things that convinced us that Australia was the right place for us.
  5. Our dedication to family and its values. Australians dedicate their weekends to family fun, sports and the beach.
  6. Our ability to always look on the bright side of life. Australians don’t moan. In the same way that we’re weirdly proud of having the ten deadliest creatures in the world, we’re also happy when it rains, because we know how good it is for the grass.
  7. Having no class structure. Sure, there are pockets of inherited money here like there are in most countries, but on the whole, there is no social ranking linked to where you came from. That means there is less snobbery, pretentiousness and judgment in terms of materialism. Australia is a meritocracy, in which the majority of us judge and are judged by the kind of people we are rather than the size of our house or make of car.
  8. The success of our multicultural society – The steps the nation is taking to put right the wrongs of the past and to prevent further discrimination may be baby steps in some areas, but the voice of the people is getting louder. Such variety of culture ensure an evolving smorgasbord of learning, from cuisine to spiritualism, as does our proximity to Asia.
  9. Our love and appreciation for the natural earth and its beautyahem, ignoring the current government’s stance on climate change. Many people are surprised when they find out that many Australian kids don’t leave the country until their infamous gap year – when they descend on London. But aside from the obvious reason – that we live f.cking miles from anywhere – why would they? In terms of climate and landscape, we are lucky to have the diversity of landscapes on our doorstep as Europe and the US – beaches and reef, mountains, deserts and rainforests. Furthermore, there is a national pride and love for the land.
  10. Our Coffee. No competition.

Next Year, I Will Choose Another Date To Celebrate Australia Day

Something didn’t feel quite right when I woke up on the morning of “Australia Day” this year. You know me, any excuse for a piss-up and I’m there with bells on, but this year felt different. Sure, we had only organized a small gathering of friends at a local pub, followed by a nice lunch – our way of celebrating our appreciation for a country that we migrated to thirteen years ago and have made our home – but the problem was, my social conscience wouldn’t shut up.

For those who don’t know what “Australia Day” represents, according to the Australia Day Council website, it is “about acknowledging and celebrating the contribution that every Australian makes to our contemporary and dynamic nation. From our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people  – who have been here for more than 65,000 years – to those who have lived here for generations, to those who have come from all corners of the globe to call our country home.” 

Unfortunately, what the day represents for our Indigenous population, (and an increasing percentage of the rest of the population), is the day in January, in 1788, that the British invaded our country and went on to murder, rape, and throw them off their land. It is why they call it their “stolen” land.

“Australia Day” is an event that causes immeasurable grief for some people, and courts controversy for many others. It is a day that divides our diverse nation – in particular, for those who believe that the celebrations deny the real and terrible truth when Australia was colonized.

A change of date was proposed recently – of which I am whole-heartedly in favor – although, not so much for the radical accusations made by some that the majority of Australians remain indifferent to the treachery caused to the forefathers of our land. In spite of the obvious bias in the documentation of that period of history – which was taught until recently in our schools (I am told) – every Australian I have met has been sensitive to the truth and does not want any part in its distortion.

For many, the “Invasion,” is not what Australia Day represents.

We are a multi-cultural nation. “Nearly half (49%) of all Australians were either born overseas (first generation) or have at least one parent born overseas (second generation)” – The Guardian – many of whom are immensely grateful for the opportunity to live here. For some, their immigration has been a life-saving event, but what they can’t do is turn back time and change history, in much the same way that the Germans can never fully atone for what took place in their concentrations camps during the second world war.

What we CAN do is move forward and put right the inequalities that continue today: we can narrow the gap in standard of living between our indigenous people and the rest of the population, and reduce (hopefully) the number of aboriginals that take their own lives each year, or serve prison sentences for minor crimes.

We can keep the pressure on our government to listen to the voice of its people (and voters), in the way we did for marriage equality.

Progress has been made. There is an evident desire to embrace the country’s indigenous history and culture. “An ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ is an opportunity to acknowledge, and pay respect, to the Traditional Owners and ongoing custodians of the land – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” (Commonground) is made at most events and council functions; there was a national “Apology To The Stolen Nations in 2008” and morning ceremonies on Australia Day are being led by our Indigenous people; likewise, Naidoc week “celebrates the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

The arts, in particular, strive to support Indigenous theatre, media, and writing. There is also targeted recruitment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates, as well as positive moves to promote more Indigenous people into politics and leading roles in the community.

But the crawl towards progress is frustratingly slow; as it is for inequality between the genders.

There is no doubt that Australia’s reputation on the world stage in terms of discrimination is tarnished. Our history of ribald sexism, racism, and ongoing discrimination of the LGBTQIA community, (this week called out by Anna Wintour), has been well-documented. And while I would like to deny the existence of such ongoing behavior from my cosy position of white privilege, I can’t. As an active member of the Twitter community, I witness to it every day.

But in defense of my adopted country, such discrimination is not the cancer of Australia alone. I truly believe that our irreverence to “difference” is changing, and that, at heart, we are a good country – albeit a young country, that has historically lagged behind other western countries when it comes to education and social conscience. Our geographical location – which promotes insularity; the climate – which makes us like the Spaniards ie. a bit too relaxed for our own good; and our national pride, is perhaps why we have come to the party later than other, more progressively-thinking western countries. But we know that we are late developers, and there is an eagerness to do better.

Our harsh migration policy is the most obvious contributor to our reputation as a racist country, even though, (in my experience), few educated people condone detention centers such as Nauru – and hopefully, the next federal election will prove that, even if a solution to the problem is far from clear-cut. But our awareness of discrimination, the true story of Australia’s colonization and our responsibility to our Indigenous people is improving.

During our lunch, in a discussion about something else, a friend pointed out the importance of not staying neutral. Change, she argued, can only be affected by loud voices and activism – something I strive to do in other areas of my beliefs! And writing this post has clarified what Australia Day means to me. Celebrating it is my way of demonstrating my gratitude for this beautiful land we live on, and that’s why, next year, I will choose an another day to celebrate it.

After Thirteen Years In Australia, It’s Good To Know That My Fear of Spiders Remains Completely Irrational

You see, the secondary career of the Huntsman spider, (after its primary role as the psychopath of the animal kingdom), is to eat mosquitoes.
Image found on Pinterest

A man in Perth, Australia, was heard shouting from his house, ‘Why don’t you die!’ Upon hearing the distressing cries of a toddler, passers-by alerted the police.

Understandably.

Fortunately, however, the victim of the man’s momentary loss of sanity was not a defenseless child, but a spider – I imagine a Huntsman spider.

What is so fascinating about this story, (about what is such a common occurrence here) – ie. the bullying tactics of a very large, very ugly arachnid that has no place in the human home – is that the majority of Australian men I know have a special fondness for these terrifying creatures.

You see, the secondary career of the Huntsman spider, (after its primary role as the psychopath of the animal kingdom), is to eat mosquitoes.

Obviously, I empathize completely with the man from Perth. I have yet to look at the Huntsman spider with anything other than abject horror since my arrival here, thirteen years ago, although I should point out that I have reached a Frodo Baggins level of heroism when it comes to cockroaches, which I can now watch scuttle out from under the sofa without jumping – back onto the sofa, that is.

For better or worse, these hairy, terrifying brown critters that constitute the stuff of nightmares, are part of Aussie life. In my last job, as a relocation consultant, it was with great difficulty that I was forced to downplay their grossness in conversations with my clients, new to the country. However, I always recommended a pest spray with every parting conversation.

The main problems with these eight-legged monsters is that a) they are HUGE – and hence, difficult to kill, (unless you want cow-sized entrails on your walls or carpet), and b) they have the speed of ninjas.

The old man has been forced to adopt the role of spider-catcher in our home – one of the few reasons we remain together – and I will admit to some old-fashioned swooning each time I see him in full pursuit of the buggers, Bond-style. After he disposes of the carcass – a minimum of ten kilometers from our home, in a place conveniently located near the driving range, I believe – I tend to look at him differently, in the same way that you might see a hot young man with a baby in a sling or a Spoodle on his lap. And he knows it. Sometimes, I wonder if he places those damn spiders in our bedroom on purpose.

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.”

 

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

himanshu-singh-gurjar-106819-unsplashChange scares people, and none more so than older people. I can personally vouch for the fact that many of us seek comfort in our dotage. Comfortable sofas, with just the right amount of back support; comfort food; comfortable clothing, and comfortable, flat shoes. We like what we know and we know what we like and what scares us most is the threat of something rocking our foundations or the idea of losing control, and change can do that.

Progress is another thing that can be contentious and scary for some, and I’m the worst offender when it comes to elements of progress such as technology. Albeit that it has improved my life immeasurably, on days when updates fail or my computer crashes for no reason, I begrudge it because I don’t fully understand it. My paternal grandmother was the same. She never got over the arrival of the first wave of West Indian immigrants to the UK in the fifties, and I remember how my toes used to curl at the launch of one of her racist tirades. But I forgave my grandmother’s discrimination because everyone had to adapt to the changes, and I was aware that at the heart of her bigotry was her age and a genuine fear of the unknown.  She never saw the changes that immigration would bring in terms of progress and growth. She would never read black literature, listen to hip-hop or go to the Notting Hill Carnival. She never saw a western, black president.

We, on the other hand, have no excuse for our bigotry, and that is why I feel nothing but shame for the right-wing propaganda that currently plagues our news feeds. Accusations of racism in Australia are rife at the moment, and the same poison that seeps into our culture is seeping through politics around the world – this, in spite of what history has taught us and the promises our grandparents made.

But what I find hardest to understand is how people – and particularly educated people – can ignore the very essence of human life. The first things we teach our children are to love, share and give freely. We teach them kindness from a young age. Kindness is ultimately what keeps everyone alive in a world in which equality is imbalanced and the gap between rich and poor is constantly widening.

And that’s what why this moment in history is so baffling and scarily defining. We are witnessing the very real possibility that the evil that permeates certain circles of the political forum may catch fire and engulf the good like a bush fire, in the way it did at the beginning of the twentieth century.

And what is more amazing is that most primitive animals – those that have far less intelligence than us – protect and demonstrate kindness to their own. Who saw the Orca that carried her dead calf around with her for a week in grief, or any of the hundreds of videos of dogs saving other dogs or humans? And yet us humans, seemingly at the top of the pack, can turn on one another, so viciously – and I’m not talking here about the small percentage of radical nutters.

I blame our sense of entitlement, which has turned some of us into greedy, self-serving xenophobes rather than loyal members of a world community, blinding us to the needs of others. Somehow, irrational fear has justified the removal of lifelines to the needy in the same way that German villagers justified the camps next to them. It is a flock mentality that needs to be curbed.

It was reported in The Guardian on Sunday that 2% of our population is Muslim, and yet we continue to treat these people as a threat and a scourge of the nation for their religion. We talk about them as though they are second-class citizens. We persecute them. We create a sense of fear around them which ostracizes and makes them targets of bigots, and it takes the son of a man killed by a Muslim radical to denounce our country’s racism.

How do we justify such accusations when the statistics don’t add up?

Kon Karapanagiotidis posted this on Twitter at the weekend:

Number of people killed by terrorism in Australia by people from backgrounds in last 100 years: 6

Women killed by male violence since July 2nd 2018: 10

Guess which one we are told is a threat to our way of life & values according to , and co?

LOOK AT THOSE STATISTICS! Think about how much we have to gain from other cultures, rather than what we might lose. Think about what we can take from these other cultures and implement to improve our own – a sense of community is just one.

CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE.

Is change so wrong? Was it wrong to give women the vote or to give equal rights to black people?

We took in immigrants to increase our population and grow our economy when we needed them. We took these land from our indigenous people when we decided we needed it. So how dare we accuse immigrants of diluting our culture.

‘The 2016 Census shows that two thirds (67 percent) of the Australian population were born in Australia. Nearly half (49 percent) of Australians had either been born overseas (first generation Australian) or one or both parents had been born overseas (second generation Australian).’

 

What are we teaching the children of immigrants about love and kindness? What are we teaching our own children about the essence of human life?

 

Make A Proper Apology, Trevor, And Learn From This Experience

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Portrait of an Aboriginal woman in western dress. Part of the Walter Herbert Bradshaw collection in the exhibition Unruly Days: Territory Life 1911-1921, Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Northern Territory. Michael J Barritt on Flickr.

There is no doubt that the derogatory comment Trevor Noah made five years ago about Aboriginal women was appalling and a foolish error of judgment. As an advocate for equal rights and a comedian of mixed race himself, who has himself admitted that ‘My mom used to get arrested for being with my dad. She would get fined. She would spend weekends in jail,’ I fail to understand the brain snap he must have experienced to take such a shockingly cruel potshot at this vulnerable and defenseless group, no matter how desperate he was for success at that time.

However, as Ben Pohble pointed out on Twitter, (in typical tongue and cheek fashion), by way of his response to the planned boycott of Noah’s upcoming Australian tour: “No, every single thing we have ever said and done in our lives should be held against us forever. Duh.”

Because if we were all held to account for every mistake we made, Prince Harry would have had a quiet wedding, Churchill would have been sacked several times over, and Trump would have never made President.

As it says in the Bible, ‘Let he that has not sinned cast the first stone.’

No, we are human and we all make mistakes, and as long as we learn from them, make our apologies to those concerned – or pay the consequences if required – we need to accept this fallibility of human nature, as just that.

We are learning all of the time; through each stage of our lives. That’s one of the best bits about our short time on earth, and new learning contributes to our growth and sense of purpose. Ten years ago, I wasn’t a vocal feminist, a writer or a potential influencer for wine companies –  yet, like a fine wine, I have evolved with age. An avid desire to learn has had a direct influence on my personal growth – and if I’m honest, I’ve probably learned far more from my mistakes than my successes.

And to my mind, more change has happened to alter our social conscience over the past few years than in the decades before. The potency of the internet has given each and every one of us a voice to share our opinions, which means that what we say and do can be transported around the globe in a nano-second – quite a terrifying responsibility for people that rely on the medium to make a living and one that  makes me think twice every time I put a word on a page.

While I can’t imagine that Trevor is quaking in his boots right now about the proposed boycott of his tour in Australia, I suspect that he will be ashamed that this video has been dredged up. He and his team will have gone into damage control to protect his reputation as a professional, a fighter of discrimination and a genuinely nice lad. No-one wants to be labeled a racist, least of all someone who has spoken so openly to leverage awareness about the problem.

Is it right to pull up a man with such talent and with such a prominent voice in the fight against racism, for a single performance, for one mistake that happened a long time ago, before many of us were fully educated about discrimination? Before Trump, before #metoo, before same-sex marriage.

Make a proper apology, Trevor, to the beautiful Aboriginal women of Australia who thought you were on their side, and learn from this experience.

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.

 

big-banana
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.

Christmas Day And Vodka Shots, Aussie-Style

It appears that all of those conversations I had with the kids before Christmas about WHAT NOT TO DO when Grandad is here, fell on deaf ears. They didn’t mention The Ashes, but when the middle-aged tribe is heavily outnumbered by Millennials, things don’t always go to plan – and just saying kids, Vodka is not an appropriate Secret Santa gift.

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As per its marketing, Vodka does ensure absolute insanity, which was somewhat at odds with the original concept in my head of a sophisticated Australian Christmas that my father might even compare one day to the Harrods-style Christmas he is accustomed to in Chelsea.

 

The day started out with all the promise of a resounding success. The weather was grey – good news when you have a table laid for sixteen on a garden deck that reaches the temperature of Mars the minute the thermometer exceeds twenty-four degrees; we managed to locate batteries for every cheap and nasty gadget that we didn’t realise required batteries; every new item of clothing fitted; the old man got over the fact that I had put away his Christmas polo shirt in his collarless-shirt pile and – Thank you, God – Kurt’s Google Home actually worked, saving it from the fate of his PS2 a few years back, which was thrown unceremoniously through the window with a ‘this is crap!’

 

Hell, I even remembered to pick up the turkey from Coles, and the dress I bought for the day – which I couldn’t bear to look at again until I’d squeezed my who-ate-all-the-mince-pies body into it five minutes before kick-off – looked okay.

 

Even the bacon on my Ikea pigs-in-blankets – home-assembled this year because some selfish bitch wiped out all stocks at our local Coles – remained intact after the old man forgot he’d already put them on the bbq.

 

Needless to say, there were a few minor casualties. I did discover the cherries frozen to the back of the fridge once everyone had left, and after an intensive first two courses with a seating plan as flammable as Christmas lunch with Trump and Obama, we gave up on formal dining and ate dessert and cheese off our laps, more camper-style than Chelsea-style.

 

And then the Millennials decided that Charades and Monopoly are a bit Britney Spears and opened the Vodka, after which, I felt the need to avert my eyes each time my father looked in my direction. 

 

Let’s just say that neither Michael Buble nor any other Christmas festivity in the street could compete with the verbal Olympics of our ten twenty-something spawn egging each other on with ‘Down! Down! Down!’ at the end of the garden, as their parents looked on proudly.

 

And the Vodka shots were superseded by a highly disorganized bout of garden wrestling, which, although I tried to convince my father was an Aussie Christmas tradition, I don’t think he believed. Fortunately, the girl-on-girl wrestling got the quickly fading middle-aged male wrinklies out of their chairs – because there was no cricket to watch, apparently.

 

We lit the pudding without causing a bushfire, had just enough wine to sate the needs of fifteen alcoholics and I even remembered the coffee and chocolates in my drunken haze. By 10pm, aforementioned Millennials had been blackmailed into sleeping it off in front of Love Actually – OR ELSE! – while we, their sloshed, perfect role-models, put the world to rights.

 

A Christmas Day as it should be.

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.

Conquering Fears and Discovering Bush In Australia

IMG_5133I conquered a few long-held fears during my holiday last week with the old man – the fear of whether we can actually spend time alone together without me wanting to kill him, because I’m aware that I won’t be able to use the PMT card as a defence in our retirement, as well as some rational, innate fears about the Australian wildlife.

Statistically, our adoptive country is proud to record that it has ten of the deadliest creatures in the world, and that’s only touching the surface because those figures don’t account for the deadly plants, animals, and insects lurking in every corner of its landscape that can make you seriously sick.

Basically, everything is out to get you.

It is my belief that the average native Australian is brainwashed as a child with the adage that ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’, so when they see dinner-plate-sized hairy spiders such as the Huntsman spider, they are able to look at them in a different light to the rest of us and appreciate them as the spiders that eat mosquitoes, unlike other arachnids such as the Redback, (and even ants), that can put them in hospital.

The less said about the Funnel Web, the better.

What I’m getting to, is that bush walking – note my ability to say the word “bush” in this context without laughing to myself like a five-year-old the first time she hears the word “penis” – is not for the faint-hearted, and completely at odds to the relaxing walks of my past in the pretty forests of the UK where my biggest worries were being stampeded by Bambi and the distance to the next pub.

We did a lot of walking this holiday, in part to witness the truly wonderful landscape that the south coast of Sydney has to offer – having reached that sad stage in our lives where we share lengthy discussions about trees and birds without boring the tits off each other or feeling like pretentious old fools – but mainly to combat the weight gain caused by a liberalness in wine consumption necessary to keep aforementioned inane conversations going, and the horrific calorie count of all the gastronomic delights we partook of (because we were on holiday).  That transitory film of dementia that descends upon the brain on holiday in regard to how easy it is to gain weight at our age really is quite wonderful.

IMG_5134In Australia, even an innocent walk to some of the whitest sand outside of Whitehaven Beach in Queensland (one of the world’s top ten beaches) has its mindfuck challenges. Where else in the world do you find “How to resuscitate” boards at each entry point to the beach? Because if the rips and sharks don’t get you, there are killer octopi, snakes and poisonous plant life, all waiting. Apparently, Jervis Bay, the last stop on our journey, is renowned for the Diamond Python, a wildlife fact the old man chose to keep to himself while I used the council “bush” toilets. Option two, of peeing behind a bush, wasn’t much better. 

IMG_5131The photo to the left represents your typical Australian bush mushroom –  hardly the type you rustle up a veg Risotto with  – and the one below is the type of daunting shape that stops you in your tracks for a second look, provoking the relaxation of your Sphincter muscle and your heart rate to increase to a dangerous level. Generally, you only remember that you’re in the middle of fucking nowhere around the same time that you discover that you only have one bar left on your phone. IMG_5132

In the bush it can feel like there are eyes on you from every direction, which is why I let the old man lead on our jaunts, indeed, the only time I allow him to assume full patriarchal, cave-man superiority before we get home and I am forced to remind him that men are to be seen but never heard.

Christmas In The Sun

A few days before Christmas I couldn’t decide whether the sparkle of the festivities had begun to dim with age.

 

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It’s not like they don’t go as hard here in Australia, it’s just different to what I’m used to and so takes a little longer to get the Christmas juices flowing.

 

In spite of being tight on cash when I was a child, Mum always made Christmas a massive event at our house, that included trips into London to taste the first roasted chestnuts in Oxford St and to see the Christmas lights. Here, outside of the plastic commercialism offered by the malls, I’m finding it hard to locate my Christmas spirit and when I see images online of fog and frost and the twinkling lights in London, I feel a familiar sense of yearning.

 

This year, I feared that the old man – more commonly referred to as Scrooge in December – would finally succeed at blowing out all the Christmas lights on my efforts. He began to torment me with his favourite song ‘Christmas is nearly over’ the day before Christmas Eve, and there were a few moments there where I almost succumbed to the pressure and joined in with a sigh of surrender.

 

Christmas holds few surprises these days with older kids. It’s too risky to buy them some random gift in the hope they’ll be gracious enough to pretend they like it, hence generally they know beforehand what’s under the tree so we’re not subjected to resting bitch faces over the turkey.

 

Even more boring is that these days I have to employ some restraint around the excesses of food and alcohol because my blooming middle-aged baby belly doesn’t possess the same recovery skills of its youth. There is some middle-aged wisdom that helps us remember that what we put in our mouths these days isn’t going anywhere else afterwards and that two portions of Christmas pud probably isn’t an option with the three to four months of bikini weather that lie ahead.

 

The radio helped. Smooth FM cranked out Buble and Mariah and as the first whiffs of Delia’s red cabbage wafted from the cook top, by early evening on Christmas Even I felt my Humbug stony heart begin to melt and a sense of excitement emerge as the combination of aromatic Christmas spices began to circulate the house.

 

Christmas morning dawned and we awoke before the kids – something I still need to get used to, although the Princess had been sniffing around the balls in her stocking for at least an hour – and I lay there for a few moments and questioned how I felt about the day now. Then in bounded Kurt, a ball of puppyish excitement, followed by NC, who snuggled into bed next to Scrooge to share a mutual look of disdain at how the brainless half of the family sucks them into this annual festivity so cruelly each year.

 

And in spite of the temperature, the lack of snow men and the distinct whiff of barbies being heated in readiness, Christmas had arrived.

Australian Survives Horror Jelly Fish Attack In Italy

One of the gnawing fears you have when you make the decision to migrate to another country is that your children may respond to the beckoning call of the homeland once they are old enough to decide where they want to live. jellyfish-257860_1280 (1)

 

That worry has been brought home to me over the past few weeks since NC, (like most Australian twenty-somethings), donned her backpack and popped over to Europe to ‘find herself’ with friends. I worried that the minute she caught up with her “roots” and felt that tug of familial love that still pulls at me from time to time when I return home, her foundations in Australia might begin to shake.

 

A message from her this morning managed to assuage my concerns, however, for it turns out that NC is probably the only person in Europe to be stung by a jellyfish.

 

Let’s not forget that our girl has lived in, nay survived in Australia – most famously recognised as the land That Time Forgot that houses ten of the most deadly animals – for eleven years with nothing more than a mosquito bite, and yet a dip in the Ligurian Sea has forced her to compete with Blake Lively in The Shallows for the most scary water fight of her life.

 

I can’t say that actually living in Australia eradicates its reputation for the certainty of death around every corner, and I have to be very careful about what I say in my job when I introduce new migrants to our land.

 

I try not to mention the spiders, for example, because although everyone has heard of Sydney’s deadly Funnel Web, (which leaves you around thirty minutes to get the anti-venom or you’re fucked), no-one tells you about their more common, larger and uglier sisters, the Huntsmen, which are much more common than we’d like them to be.

 

I haven’t been lucky enough to encounter a Funnel Web yet, and I know many Australians who haven’t either, because in general they tend to stay outside, in the ground or under rocks, providing another excuse for never gardening…Ever! 

 

Australians have a very different attitude to wildlife than us pathetic Poms, I should add, which means that if you want to be accepted here you have to toughen up. In Australia, it’s commonly accepted that if it doesn’t kill you, it’s alright.

 

What they can’t downgrade about their problematic wildlife is that a lot of them do.

 

When I first walked down the steps off the plane at Sydney airport a decade ago, I admit that I was expecting a Sharknado, spiders to drop from the trees and snakes to slither through the cracks of my hotel windows.

 

But it’s really not that bad…if you live in an apartment in the city.

 

Cockroaches – and they’re big fuckers – are as much a part of life as rats are to London, but you DO get used to them – honest! The Princess uses them as dental floss and I love that satisfying crack as she halves them like a walnut.

 

While the Huntsman, (with its legs even hairier than mine in winter), has frightened the living crap out of me several times, demonstrating a rather unimpressive quality to my personality on more than one occasion, Australians see them as a wonder of the planet because they consume the mosquitoes. I have many crazy friends who leave them in their bedrooms on patrol. I’ve also met several who have had them drop out from behind the visor in their car whilst they were driving and nearly died. huntsman-spider-1234030_1280

 

It’s all just another magical part of living in this glorious country.

 

Usually competent in the water (if you ignore the last Olympics), we can certainly compete on the jellyfish front as well, with the world’s deadliest up north in the form of the Box jellyfish. I was surprised when I was there when I didn’t see people swimming in the sea out of stinger season, having presumed it to be safe, only to be put right by a local who admitted that they never swim in the water at any time of the year – they leave that to the tourists.

 

As was proven by the poor British woman who recently lost her life to a crocodile in Northern Queensland. Stories like that produce a shake of the head and silent ‘fucking idiot’ condemnation from the average Australian because EVERYONE knows that you don’t swim in croc-infested water…and especially not at night.

 

I wonder if everyone in Cinque Terre knew about that one jellyfish in the water or if it was another case of my daughter’s Bridget Jones-esque attraction to bad luck when travelling?

Melbourne Cup, At Home, In Our Active Wear

It was simply impossible to choose between the multitude of invitations to Melbourne Cup lunches that floated through my mailbox this week, so I opted for the private party instead. 

Melbourne Cup, At Home, In Our Active Wear
Champagne, darlinks!

For my non-Australians readers, the Melbourne Cup is one of Australia’s most prestigious horse races, ie the biggest horsey event in Australia each year, akin to the Grand National in the UK or the Kentucky Derby in the US (according to Wikipedia – don’t quote me). It is the exhibitionist’s excuse to wear ridiculous hats, get off their faces on champagne and spend their annual salaries on over-the-top dresses, that frankly they’ll probably never wear again.

No-one really likes horse-racing, but we all love an excuse to get plastered.

Melbourne Cup, At Home, In Our Active Wear
‘The Spread’

My private party included NC – who happened to be at home studying for exams – and our little Princess, who we let out of the doghouse for this very special occasion.

Fortunately, the old man had been invited to some corporate event in the city, which meant that there was no Grinch to spoil our fun, and more importantly, I managed to rack up 7000 more steps than him on our step challenge before our celebrations began.

The great thing about entertaining at home is that there’s no-one to impress or be judged by, so us three fillies decided that we would take full advantage of our informal surroundings and celebrate the Cup in our active wear; comfort being the ultimate ingredient of every enjoyable celebration.

The organisation involved was overwhelming and at one point I thought we might be forced to cancel. The local robbers at the fish shop decided to raise the price of their prawns to $42/kg on the day, (and an image of the old man shaking his head disappointedly haunted me as I handed over the cash), the selection of dips n’chips proved impossible to choose between at the local deli, and the restrictions imposed by my ‘ugly face diet’ made the task of stuffing my face BIGTIME quite a challenge.

Melbourne Cup, At Home, In Our Active Wear

But when have I ever turned down a food challenge?

I justified that if I ate vaguely within the limitations of my new diet, I could quaff a few glasses of Champagne as a fair exchange and then provide the entertainment for the evening as the family watched my cheeks explode to a new scarier, shade of scarlet.

It’s called diet/life balance, bitches.

And who were we wearing?

NC was in Cotton on yoga wear, because she loves the idea of yoga even though she doesn’t know one end of a downward dog from another, while I wore vintage leggings (complete with trendy hole in the leg), a Lorna Jane fitness bra that has always been too small but makes my tits look massive, and a Cotton On top. My hat was statement Byron while NC chose a sweet little fascinator that I wore to MC a couple of years ago when I was popular the old man had a job and we were happy and we used to be invited to corporate events. 

Melbourne Cup, At Home, In Our Active Wear
When it comes to food presentation, no-one comes close.

The champagne flowed for about an hour, (until NC started moaning about revision), the most expensive prawns in the world were devoured with gusto and we even ate that putrid-looking jelly on the top of the pate.

And to cap a truly, splendid time, we witnessed the first female jockey, Michelle Payne, ride to glory and into the history books.

Hurrah! I’ve realized that I may never have to leave the house again.