Thursday, December 12, 2013

A post for which The Pedestrian Council will hate me

What is it with people when they are in a pedestrian role? Is there a sudden brain shift that gives us, walking down the footpath, a sense of total superiority to people driving cars? And makes us exercise that superiority simply because we can?

Like many of us I am both driver and pedestrian as the occasion demands.

When I'm in pedestrian mode, I am aware of people in driving mode, and I am mindful of them.

Let's take a zebra crossing for instance. If the road is clear in one direction, and there is only one car coming in the other, with no other cars in sight, I will NOT simply walk out onto the zebra crossing and make the poor bastard grind to a halt. I'll wave him on or stand back from the crossing.

Why? When I have the right to make cars stop for me?

Because it's polite is why. I can wait another couple of seconds for the car to pass and cross when the road is completely empty. It's easier for me to come to a stop than the car.

Additionally, when that car grinds to a halt for me, it has to take off again afterwards, and cars in low gear use a lot more fuel than cars running in a higher gear at a higher speed. It is a minor bit of karma (or carma) I'm doing for the environment by waving the car on.

I never see any other pedestrians wave motorists on at zebra crossings. Countless times I've been the one car driving down the road who has stopped at the crossing when there is no other bloody car in sight. Anywhere.

Another beef is busy pedestrian crossings. Some of these - in Eastwood, Sydney for example - have signs at the side encouraging pedestrians to wait and cross in groups to aid traffic flow, as Eastwood is super-busy. Do they wait and cross in groups? Do they hell! Nope, you'll sit there while a couple of dozen people amble in single or double file across the road, nice and slowly, while cars bank up in both directions behind them. Once that group has crossed one, perhaps two cars will get to go before the next person strolls out onto the crossing, solo and proud of it. Sitting at the Eastwood crossings reminds me that there is no slower, dawdling pedestrian than a teenager in a school uniform, except perhaps an elderly person. The elderly, however, have an excuse for being slow walkers, as do people with a disability. Able-bodied folk have no excuse for the 1km/h speed over zebra crossings.

Finally, there are the school kids. Here in NSW we have 40 km/h school zones which are active twice a day, even when there isn't a child in sight. 40km/h is a nice slow speed which enables teenagers in particular to play chicken and run across the road in front of you, because they are too lazy/impatient to walk to the nearest zebra crossing or traffic lights. This scares the hell out of me when I'm driving. I was driving down Lane Cove Road in Ryde two years ago when two teenage boys in school uniform decided to bolt across all six lanes of it when traffic was moving at a relatively good peak hour pace, i.e. 30km/h. They ran straight in front of my car. I was shaking afterwards. There were traffic lights only 100 metres behind me, but oh no, the kids couldn't be bothered walking up there and crossing safely. And if anyone had hit them, it would have been the motorist's fault even though the kids had put their own lives at risk with their stupid behaviour.

There is a law in NSW which pedestrians break if they cross the road within 20 metres of traffic lights or a zebra crossing, rather than using the lights or crossing. Every afternoon at my local high school this rule is smashed to smithereens despite a zebra crossing having been installed last year right outside the school gates. Prior to that, it was like dodging Brown's Cows as the teenagers ran or walked, even dawdled, across the road any old how. There is a set of traffic lights 100 metres up from the school and another zebra crossing 200 metres down the hill. But why use those when you can simply run in front of cars?

Seriously, people, think before you cross the road. Don't make one poor sap stop just for you if the rest of the road is clear. When you do cross, walk quickly so cars - on whose territory, the road, you are currently traversing - can get moving again. And at busy crossings, show a bit of consideration and try and cross with others. In short, do someone behind the wheel a good deed.

And it doesn't hurt to give a little wave or nod to people who do stop for you. Yes, I know it's the law that they have to stop, but it's nice to acknowledge that they actually saw you and stopped, particularly if it's that one car on the road, with nothing else in sight, who stopped for you.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bugger the hospital corners - I like my bed made my way!

I have a beef with hotels, B&Bs and other places at which I've stayed over the years.

I hate, desperately hate, the way they make the beds.

The sheets are turned down and tucked in so tightly that when you get into bed, your shoulders aren't covered. The blanket or duvet barely reaches to my nipples. I love to have at least a sheet over my shoulders except on the hottest nights. As a female of a certain age, I'm prone to waking at 2am screamingly hot (oh, OK, I have hot flushes. I'm menopausal), in which case I throw the covers off for a few minutes until I'm back to normal. But I like to have the choice. I don't want to spend all night with the top half of me too cold, awaiting the next hot flush.

Inexorably therefore, at any hotel, I have to remake the bed somewhat - untucking the sheets, blankets and duvet at the foot end and hauling them up towards the pillow.

I also untuck the sheets at the side, as I like to stick a leg out of bed as well if I get too hot. At home, there is usually at least one cat sleeping on the bed. In winter, I'm likely to have both of them tucked behind my knees (my knees, you'll note. G is too fidgety for them to get a good night's sleep behind his knees). So a little foot ventilation is necessary. I'm used to folding back the bottom end of the blanket or duvet to allow for the heat given off by the cats. Amusingly, I found myself doing that at hotels in Tasmania before I remembered the cats were back in Sydney.

My other alternative is to drag the pillow half way down the bloody bed so I can get the blankets up to my chin.

I'm not sure where the trend came from for making beds with blankets that don't come up to the pillow, but I suspect I'm not alone in remaking hotel beds to make them comfortable and practical rather than simply neat-looking.

What about you? Are you a fan of the hotel/hospital style of bed making, or do your sheets and blankets tuck happily under your chin at night?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Eye di mi!

Well this is a nice kettle of fish. I have a hyphema - bleeding - in my left eye. There's a little dollop of blood in front of the iris. I can't see much out of it either.

The not seeing much is old news; I was born with a faulty left eye, it's a long oval shape rather than round, and I've never been able to read a word with it. But even so, the sight in my left eye has deteriorated over the last weeks. I'm not seeing 50 shades of grey, I'm just seeing one.

Thankfully my ophthalmologist, whom I haven't seen for several years as she's expensive and I don't have much cash flow, had a cancellation this morning so I was able to see her.

Despite a couple of rounds of dilating drops in my eye, and the brightest of lights, she couldn't see through to the back of my eye. So who knows what is lurking there. A detaching retina? I have retina damage and suspect I was born with it. Hopefully not a tumour; that's my worst fear.

I'm now on eye drops to help inflammation and hopefully stop the little beads of blood, and have to go for an ultrasound on my eye on the 18th of this month. Her receptionist tried to book me in sooner but the professor my doc would like me to see is away next week.

Shitting myself? You bet.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pulling the chain and other puerile joys

This morning at my Mum's house I found - finally! - my photo album from my first visit to Tasmania 11 years ago. I went there with a friend I'll call The Photographer. We spent ages seeking out perfect locations and framing our shots and the album is a stunner, even if I say so myself. Postcard photos!

Mixed in with the postcard shots of heavenly scenery are the pics of us having fun.

In one photo, I am balancing a chamber pot on my head. You'll be pleased to know it's empty. (Unfortunately my computer can't read the CD it's stored on, which is a bit of a worry and something I'll have to sort, otherwise you'd see it here in all its glory.)

I have always found chamber pots to be a wonderful source of amusement. I have a very advanced sense of toilet humour, which was the bane of my grandmother's existence when I was a girl. She wanted me to be A Lady. I wanted to be a tomboy.

My grandparents didn't have an indoor toilet until some time in the early 1970s, so my early childhood memories of staying there for holidays involved chamber pots. There was always one under the bed, as nobody wanted to head down to the back yard and the unlit outdoor dunny in the pitch black of night. If you needed a pee in the middle of the night, you squatted carefully over the pot. Even more carefully the next morning you took it through the house and down the back yard and tipped it into the loo. Or Mum did. Hilarious as I thought chamber pots were, the sight and smell of a semi-full one was a bit too much for me.

As for the outdoor dunny, it was a gem. The walls were of fibro, the roof of corrugated iron. The door had a gap top and bottom so the light could get in. The bog roll was on a hook that was always a little rusty. My grandparents lived by the sea.

My cousins and I used to delight in peeking under the door and teasing whoever was sat on the seat (which was made of utilitarian black plastic).

Best of all, it had a chain flush. A proper old-fashioned chain with a black bakelite handle which released a thunderous fall of water from the cistern near the roof. Pulling the chain was very satisfying - you'd give it a damned good tug, release it and watch it fly roofwards -  and one of the things I missed when the indoor toilet was installed, as its cistern was conventionally behind the seat and it flushed quietly with a discreet little button.

You don't see chain flush toilets much anymore. My other grandmother had one too in her old house in Clovelly. It was an inside toilet next to the scullery, on the covered in back porch.

At the primary school I went to chain flush toilets were still in place in the 60s and 70s. The newest school building, built in the 1960s, featured chain flushes. In the girls' loo there were two rows of toilets from memory, and it was a good game to have a race to see who could dash into each cubicle and pull the chain down the row of loos. Even better, you'd wait until someone was sat down, climb silently into the cubicle next door, reach over and pull as quickly as you could, trusting you wouldn't be seen by the unlucky girl who just got a wet bum.

This year's Tassie photos don't feature any chamber pots - but I did spy one in an antique shop and, looking at the price, wish we'd kept my grandparents'! I didn't encounter a chain flush toilet either, although I'm sure many still exist, hidden on farms and in older houses. If the chain flush toilet still exists in any number, it will exist in Tassie, my heart tells me.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Paradise may have its serpents, but it still appeals

Outside it's raining; it's blowing on the windows and on the seemingly endless row of neighbours' roofs. My glimpse of the sky is cut into segments by terracotta tiles and brickwork. I feel closed in, in a way I didn't feel for ten days earlier this month.

I've been in Paradise, you see. Godzone Country. In other words, Tasmania. In this underpopulated island there are big skies. When it rains, you can see the rain approaching for many kilometres. Even in Hobart and Launceston, the world is on a human scale and you still get the sense of space and sky.

It's even better in the country. We stayed by the sea in Bicheno for a few days, watching the weather change kilometres away and the seas turn from dead calm to white horses to waves crashing against the shore and up through the blowhole. It rained - it poured! - but somehow that didn't matter. We chucked on our raincoats and headed to the shore to watch nature at work. Who cared if it was only 13 degrees with summer a fortnight away? Not us. I prefer cool climate holidays to tropical islands anyway.

We stayed in Ross, in the midlands, where the river had broken its banks, creating a wide blue pond that reflected the wide blue sky. Around us the hills were green and gentle. Tassie has had a very wet winter and spring, and the island is rejoicing in it. Lushness everywhere.

We were snowed on at Mt Wellington near Hobart. From the top of Mt W you get, if the mountain isn't in cloud, a superb view of Hobart itself. Our time there was limited so we took a chance and drove up, passing joggers and cyclists who clearly had masochistic tendencies. Higher and higher, until little blobs of snow sat at the side of the road. I was excited. I love snow. What I didn't expect was that before we would reach the summit the weather would turn and we would be caught in a snowfall. Not a heavy one, but enough to make me pull on hats and gloves, laugh and stand in it, catching snowflakes on my tongue. Beside me a family of tourists were clearly unprepared for the weather and stood in shorts, skimpy tops and flip-flops, shivering for the camera.

As quickly as it started the snow stopped, and we were wreathed in cloud with crunchy white stuff underfoot.  Driving down the mountain Hobart reappeared when we slipped below the cloud base, dotted along the riverbanks on either side of the Derwent. It's a town that looks at peace with its environment; not too encroaching, with the only blot being the high rise Wrest Point Casino at Sandy Bay.

Launceston is even nicer in that regard, with heritage buildings - none over six stories - and a friendly feel; ten minutes' drive and you're out of town and in the country, with spring all around you, exuberant with wild colour. The road winding beside the Tamar gives you panoramic vistas. Launceston isn't a blot on the landscape, there is no pall of smog hanging over it - or Hobart come to that. You know it's there, behind those hills, but it has a kind footprint.

Our final few days were with G's family in a remote spot down the side of the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, near Gordon, a one horse village whose one horse was probably a Shetland pony.  The Cousin lives on 5 acres outside town, up on a hill with the Channel visible through the gum trees. There's some space around the property for fire protection, and the farmlet is home to native chooks, goshawks, possums and the odd tiger snake. The bloke next door has set up a rescue home for retired racehorses, but in a very minor way; he only has half a dozen as that's all he can support. The Cousin is building a veggie and fruit garden and is going to enclose it in chicken wire because of the possums.  It's a magical spot only an hour south of Hobart, on a two lane road that winds along beside the channel through villages and small towns. From the Cousin's deck you can see forever.

We drove away from the Cousin's place feeling very envious. Neither of us is particularly handy with our hands - unlike the Cousin, an ex-carpenter and builder - so we probably couldn't manage the maintenance on a property like that. But oh boy, did we ever wish we could!

I had been to Tassie before but G hadn't, and I could see the stars forming in his eyes from the first day. Like me, he was bewitched by the place. After only a few days he was thinking sea change. Not right now, as we have my elderly Mum to look after, but in the future.

All Paradise has its serpents, however, and Tassie has a couple of big 'uns. One is the cost of living. Despite being a farming island a hell of a lot of stuff is imported from The Big Island/The North Island/The Mainland, which puts the prices up. Petrol is 20c a litre dearer than Sydney. Utility costs are higher too and if you have a really dry summer you can cop water restrictions as the dams aren't as big. Winter is cold, so heating your property is more expensive. The Cousin is a dab hand with a chainsaw and has plenty of firewood to hand, so his heating bills won't be horrendous.

Land and housing, on the other hand, is cheaper than Sydney (most places are!!!!), except for upmarket areas such as Battery Point and Sandy Bay in Hobart. Lovely suburbs right close to town but almost at Sydney prices. If you had a good enough house in Sydney you could sell, move to Tassie and live off the leftover money, invested wisely.

Unemployment is another serpent. We drove through several towns down on their luck with businesses for sale or simply closed down and boarded up; not pretty enough for chocolate-box photos, and with no outstanding natural beauty nearby, they are truly struggling. (Fingal springs to mind here.) Life is not pleasant if you're living in a small town and unemployed, wondering how you're going to keep your poorly insulated house warm next winter. The Cousin keeps his doors and windows locked and blinds down even when he drives to the nearest town to pick up groceries, as crime is a real problem in the less affluent rural areas.

The prettier towns, the tourist spots like Ross, have a fair percentage of Big Islanders as residents. They've moved from Sydney or Melbourne, cashed up, and can afford a pretty cottage in a nice place; often they have started their own tourism/hospitality business there. Cafes, BandBs…

Realistically if you are self-employed you can do okay, particularly in the trades people need, although the Cousin told us that Tasmania operates on Tasmanian Time, which means tradies have a relaxed interpretation of the word urgent. My business might survive in Tassie - heaven only knows it's barely surviving here, where there are thousands of potential clients. However if we moved south I'd be giving up the business and taking on art and writing fiction I should think. Ideally we would be in a position where I wouldn't have to work full time.

Until then… we'll be spending a bit more time there, exploring, researching, calculating. G is already talking about having a longer holiday in Tassie within the next two years. I did warn him ten days wouldn't be enough!

Still raining - but I can't see beyond the neighbour's house to find out what the weather has in store for me. Oh for those big skies!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wondering if the end is nigh

I'm a little worried. Not about the end of the world, in case you're wondering about the title of this post. But I'm worried about the state of my friendship with a certain friend I'll call Posh.

Posh and I have been close friends since we were in our late teens. Our friendship has lasted through different cities and different continents. We are able to not see each other for months and when we do, it's like we haven't been apart; laughter all the way. But suddenly, she isn't returning my calls.

I know she's been busy - she and her husband sold their house last month so they'll be scrabbling around trying to find a new place to live with their teenaged kids.

For the last couple of years Posh and I have celebrated Melbourne Cup day together, with a bunch of her friends. This year though, not a word from Posh and now she's in pics on Facebook at someone else's Cup party with a bunch of new friends. Posh is a people collector, I may add here.

So what's gone wrong?

I think it's this: I'm now a Candle Lady. Posh wanted me to be a Thermomix consultant with her, and earlier this year I agreed to do that. However, with the stress The Scarlet Pimpernel put me under, I put any new business ideas on hold. I was sick at the thought of having to go out and do demos at other peoples' houses with a bit of gorgeous kit that costs almost $2K; you wouldn't expect to sell one at every demo at that price. I'm not a natural sales person and I knew if I didn't get a sale I'd feel down and inadequate.

So when I decided that candles were for me, as it's impossible to hold a demo without someone buying something, I rang Posh to tell her my intentions and apologise for not going into Thermomix with her. The phone went to voicemail - it does quite often with Posh as she's out and about or leaves the phone in another room.

That was six weeks ago. I've left four messages since then, and not one of them has been returned. I've messaged on Facebook. No reply. I've commented favourably on some of her recent Facebook pics. No Likes, no comment in return.

I believe I'm being shunned, rather than just ignored because Posh is busy. If that's the case, and it's as a result of my business decision, I think Posh is being a bit shallow.

Or maybe she's just grown out of our old friendship. After all, the friends she has made in the last ten years are wealthy with children who go to the same private school as Posh's. They live in a nice part of Sydney's north shore. In big houses which are typically mortgaged to the hilt. They spend like there's no tomorrow, have expensive holidays and they are all foodies to a woman.  I am not wealthy and I don't have kids; I live in a townhouse in Sydney's west; my holidays are usually planned to a budget but are enormous fun; while I love my food I'm not a princess about it.

For now, I guess I have to accept the end may be on its way for our friendship. It would have taken Posh only a minute to pick up the phone, or send me a text.

To paraphrase a famous quote from one of my favourite movies, Casablanca, "This could be the end of a beautiful friendship."

I guess I'll know one way or the other - it's almost Christmas card season.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dan the Man - Dream Invader

Back in the 80s I had a fling with Dan the Man (as he described himself). Dan was a Canuck, a French Canadian guy I'd met on a holiday in Europe. I thought the fling was the real thing, he viewed it as a holiday romance. Naturally, it ended in tears - mine - but that's another story and too turgid to go into. I'll digress if I do.

Anyway, last night I dreamed about Dan the Man. I was in Montreal on holiday, with Mum. I was the age I am now but Mum was younger and fitter. We'd gone to Montreal but were hoping we wouldn't bump into Dan.

So we spent our holiday peeking around corners and of course, found ourselves in the same building as Dan the Man. I think it was a hotel. I don't always remember my dreams terribly well once I'm awake but I remember hissing at Mum, "Don't tell him I'm here!" and hiding under something. Bedcovers? Cushions? Something soft.

Dan, naturally, peered around a corner and found me, and we had an argument about something. Nothing obviously had changed in the many years since we'd last met. I should add here that we'd met up for holidays twice more after the initial one - 1991 in the US and 1996 in Canada, with the clear understanding that any sex involved was fling-like rather than the indication of a lasting relationship. We used to argue. It was an unhealthy relationship in many ways and around ten years ago we lost touch altogether.

My vague recollection of my dream is about me and Mum trying to move away from Dan the Man, with him pursuing and finding us, and finally he was being very pleasant and friendly, offering to show us around town. By the way, I've never been to Montreal so the Montreal I saw in my dreams probably bears no relation to anywhere on Earth.

I woke up wondering why the hell I'd dreamed about Dan the Man. Then I twigged. I'd watched an excellent show last night on ABC1, Redesign My Brain with Todd Sampson. Todd is also Canadian, and a thin and wiry/muscly build like Dan the Man. The physical similarities must have lodged in my brain - which clearly needs redesigning in that case - and lo! a dream was duly delivered.

Over the years I've wondered about Dan the Man. Whether he's still single, and I suspect he is, as he's too fussy about women's looks. He's a very intelligent guy and a perpetual student; I suspect he has at least two degrees by now.

I've tried to find him on the internet - little ole stalker me - and he's curiously invisible. No Facebook or Twitter. Not on LinkedIn. He's in the phone book and still living at the same address I've always known for him. I'd love to know what he looks like these days. Still skinny, I bet, and still bespectacled.  Whether he's kept the wild mop of curls is another thing; I suspect he's rather thin on top these days. In my dream the curls were still there but a bit grey. The lush curls, I may add, were part of the attraction; I've always liked good hair on men. (Doesn't explain why I'm married to someone who's quite bald on top - I guess he has other attractions :-) ).

I wonder which old flame will pop up in my dreams next?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Poison, sweet poison

Show me a weight loss plan or book and I'll sniff with interest. Enough interest and I'll buy it. Such as, it says I can have a glass of wine with dinner. Or enjoy the occasional serve of hot chips. Guess what I found at our local bookshop last week, in that case!

G and I are both on a weight loss kick. In his case, it's on doctor's orders as doc has said G's 'bad' cholesterol is too high. G was then sent to a nutritionist who recommended using margarine instead of butter and other ideas that the medical profession believes are better for you, mostly related to using 'fake' food instead of real food.

I have a real beef with that. Pun intended.

We humans didn't evolve for hundreds of thousands of years to eat artificial preservatives and oils bleached to pale yellowness to resemble butter. We ate meat with fat on it. We made butter from cream. We were relatively healthy - aside from the plague and other baddies - until the last few hundred years and particularly the 20th century.

I've just finished reading two books: Sweet Poison and Toxic Oil by Aussie author David Gillespie. These are real eye-openers.

David Gillespie isn't a doctor. His background is as a lawyer. As such, he's an investigator. He hunts down facts, and what he's found out from sifting through layers and centuries of data is that it's the fructose in refined sugar and food that contains it that's making us fat. Killing us, in fact, as sugar is also the culprit behind rising bad cholesterol.

Sugar didn't exist in our diet to the degree it does now, 200 years ago. It was simply too expensive to buy. Yer average Aussie these days eats about 1kg of the stuff a week. Pick up a kilogram bag of sugar and hold it in your hand just to cement the idea. It's no wonder 1 in 5 Australians are obese. Sugar creeps insidiously into just about everything, particularly the 'fat-free' products, which use sugar to enhance the taste in lieu of fat.

And guess what - those little Heart Foundation ticks of approval on food containing vegetable/seed oils should be crosses. The way these oils are produced affects their molecular structure, and not in a good way. Couple that with data produced in the 1950s by a respected scientist, which was taken as gospel by the US government (and later the Aussies), showing that animal fat apparently leads to heart disease, and suddenly we're all being told to eat polyunsaturated oils which can have some pretty nasty side effects. I knew polyunsatured oils can cause macular disease - ie blindness - so have banned them from my kitchen, and if I have to buy packaged food I read the labels very carefully indeed. Animal fat isn't the bad guy it's made out to be, in a nutshell.

These books were written by a man who lost 40kg after cutting out sugar - and still eating animal fat products. Without sugar his health has improved immensely, weight loss irregardless.

As you can surmise by now Sweet Poison tells you all the reasons you should cut out refined sugar from your life. You can eat whole fruit (but not juice it... you're just getting fructose without the fibre if you do). You can even have a glass of dry white or red wine with dinner, as the sugar in wine doesn't break down into fructose. But forget the cakes and sweet biscuits, jams, and - regretfully! - chocolate.

This is going to be rather hard to achieve. Harder for G to achieve that I, as he has a Scotman's sweet tooth and adores his marmalade. And chocolate. And biscuits. He can hoover up three biscuits with one cup of coffee if they're put in front of him.

Since I cut out sugar in my coffee last year, I have less sugar cravings. I don't long for a couple of squares of chocolate after dinner any more. I eat marmalade on my toast maybe twice a year, as I find it too sweet. I prefer a handful of nuts to a sweet biscuit. I do love a good cake though, and as David points out, if party food such as cakes is only eaten at parties or as a rare treat, and you don't have the urge afterwards to get back on the chocolate, biscuits, meringues and other sweet goodies, that's acceptable.

Toxic Oil says eggs are just fine, hunt out grass-fed beef or choose lamb instead, choose free-range chooks who aren't fed on grains heavy on Omega-6, and if you must have chips, fry them in olive oil, or an animal fat such as Supafry. (Don't buy fast food chips, whatever you do.) The book features several handy tables showing the sugar and polyunsaturated oil content of many common supermarket items, so I know what to buy and what to avoid.

Over the last couple of months G has lost five kilograms after a stern talking-to by the nutritionist, and me pointing out he doesn't need two slices of toast laden with marmalade after a breakfast of eggs, spinach, mushrooms and half a grapefruit. He's down to one spoon of sugar in tea and coffee too. I've surreptitiously cut down his portion sizes at other meals, and we don't have carbs every night at dinner, only a couple of times a week, getting carbs from vegetables instead. He's delighted at his weight loss and I'm going to urge him to read these books so we can work together on getting him down to a good weight for his height. In my case I only have about 4kg to lose.

My next task is clearing the food cupboard and fridge of the worst sugar and polyunsaturated oil offenders. I think tucked under the packets of quinoa, couscous, chia seeds and curry powders are some jars of curry paste, possibly bought when G still lived in Adelaide. As I typically make my own curry paste from scratch they're undoubtedly out of date anyway. This will be cathartic. And that's always a good thing.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What was he thinking?

My husband G is a lovely bloke. Thoughtful. Generous. Kind. I am very lucky.

He likes to buy me presents, particularly if he's sent overseas on business, and most of the time they hit the mark pretty well.

Earlier this year he travelled to India, and asked me if I'd like him to bring back a sari. Delighted, I said. Cotton, preferably, and with sequins. Something a bit over the top I can turn into an evening dress. Aqua colour. Bless him, he came back with an apple green polyester sari with no sequins. Not what I envisaged for an evening dress so one of my Indian neighbours will have to show me how to wear a sari. We have many Indian neighbours. There'll probably be an occasion to wear one. It's a very pretty sari.

Happy that he'd bought a sari, G then thought he'd buy me something else. Silk clothes are pretty cheap in India, so he bought me a silk top.

I think he probably went into the fashion boutique, as he said it was quite a fashionable little shop, and told the salesgirl, "My wife likes wearing bright colours. What have you got in silk?"

She was undoubtedly overjoyed to offload a safety vest green coloured top, the cut of which is designed to turn anyone with boobs bigger than 32" into an elephant.

I am talking BRIGHT green. Eye-piercing, blinding green. Yes, the glow in the dark colour favoured by all health-and-safety-conscious manual workers everywhere. This photo doesn't do it justice. It makes it look tame.

I am thinking the shop didn't sell many of these; G told me proudly he'd got it on special.

Being a polite person, I thanked him generously and said it was lovely, and tried it on. Because of those pleats at the top and the subsequent flow of fabric it immediately made me look 10kgs heavier. I hoiked it in with a wide turquoise coloured belt, which helped. 

Apart from the fit, or lack of fit, the problem is the colour. What the hell do you match blinding green with so you don't look like a roadworker? I guess I can tone it down with aqua and turquoise, and wear it with white capri pants. I could probably wear it under the apple green sari, come to that.

Because it's a present and G was so proud of his shopping capabilities, I am honour bound to wear the top and not give it away. I am too kind a person to let it meet with an accident. I can't even dye it another colour or he'll suspect he made a major error with the fuck-me-that's-green green, and feel bad about it. 

So I have to grin and bear it - or in this case, wear it. But... what was he thinking when he went through the decision process on this top?

Has anyone else been giving a present they don't like but have to wear lest the giver get insulted?

Friday, October 4, 2013

The romance of rail

Occasionally I'm stuck in traffic on a railway bridge near my home. I don't like being stuck on bridges; that makes me twitchy. So I divert my attention from potential bridge collapses and imminent death by looking at the train lines below.

They snake off into the distance and around the bend, and I want to sniff the air and jump on a train. To anywhere. Just for the hell of it. Just to see where those silvery lines lead. To go to a place I wouldn't have any reason to go to; a place I haven't been before. The smell of the electricity, the mild rocking motion, and a sense of adventure, of zipping past all those cars trundling slowly down the roads, lifts my mood.

There's something about trains that appeals, despite my hatred of packed peak-hour public transport. Maybe it's the relaxation element (outside peak hour) where you can sit down with a book and let someone else drive. I can't read in cars but I can read in trains.

If I'm not reading, there's scenery. Well, in my case it's usually a troll through western Sydney, much of which ain't pretty, but it's interesting. The demographics change. The Indian woman sitting on her apartment balcony near Parramatta will be an Asian woman by the time you get to Strathfield. The houses on their quarter acre blocks - often fibro, often untidy - which back onto the train line give way to apartments around Parramatta and Westmead, then more houses on smaller blocks - brick, typically - until we hit the inner west and the lovely Italianate homes around Summer Hill and Petersham, and rows of terraces. Then it's into the funkiness of Newtown and Redfern before darkness envelopes us and we pull into Central.

A train ride is a sense of escape. It's still an adventure for me, as I don't ride the train every day. Train rides mean a journey into town for pleasure, or occasionally a client meeting. Earlier this week I had to go to St Leonards, so I took the train and gazed happily out at Sydney harbour as we crossed it on the coat hanger. Blissfully bluesky day, shimmering blue water; heartlifting. You can't always see that if you drive your car across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

So I find there is still a romance about travelling by train, even in suburban Sydney.

On my trip earlier this week there was real romance in the air, and I wondered what the relationship was. A guy sat opposite me; he was on the train when I alighted, munching McDonald's. He was in his thirties, unremarkable. At Parramatta a Chinese girl in her twenties or thirties got on and sat next to him, snuggling up. He put his arm around her, and for several stops they stayed like that, her head on his shoulder, his face turned towards hers, intensely talking. I was busy looking out the window on my side and only noticed the girl get off several stations later. I assumed the guy got off too, but no, he was still sitting there and got off at Town Hall. I wondered if they were having an affair, grabbing each opportunity to see each other, even if it was only travelling on the train for twenty minutes together. It brings a whole new dimension to the romance of rail.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


My past is littered with failed multi-level-marketing attempts. In the 90s a close friend got me into Amway. It was disastrous. I didn't even manage to get one friend or colleague to 'look at the plan'.

Two years later I was more or less press-ganged into joining NuSkin at a women-only luncheon. I sold a couple of bottles of rather nice skin and face gunk but that was a fizzer, too.

Six years ago a colleague persuaded me to join Agel, saying I couldn't fail. Agel sells high-end vitamins. Unfortunately, good as the product was, the price was a bit of a killer, and as a rep I had to buy two boxes at month at around $100 each to stay in the business. I had no takers for becoming a rep under me, and, a couple of thousand dollars later, got out of that one.

At that point, I swore I would never again get involved in an MLM business as clearly I was not a born salesperson.

Why obviously explains why I've just signed up to PartyLite to become a candle lady, doesn't it?

The difference is, this time I have real faith in the product - and my friends are urging me to join so they can buy candles from me and hold candle parties with me presenting, so they get candle freebies of their own. I have finally found something people want to buy from me.

I am a candle addict. I have candles throughout the house and bugger the ozone layer and my carbon footprint, I thoroughly enjoy burning them. As a bit of a connoisseur of candles, I adore the PartyLite ones for their clean burn and good scents, which don't fade and aren't sickly overpowering. Before I even decided to become a 'candle lady' I was already a brand ambassador.

It was a tossup whether to try and supplement my income with PartyLite or Enjo, as I have big beliefs in both products. PartyLite won for the simple reason that people use and replace the candles quicker than they do the Enjo products. We'll treat ourselves with a pretty, sweet-smelling candle; it's an affordable luxury which starts at $17 - less than most lipsticks. We don't think of buying a cleaning glove as treating ourselves (but we are really, because we're cleaning the house without chemicals and our bodies will thank us). The money isn't quite as good with PartyLite but the starter kit is cheaper, and people really WANT to hold candle parties; already I have three friends who want to host one for me.

This time, I have also done my homework with my accountant. You see, most people who join an MLM business hear the words "expenses are tax deductible" and rub their hands happily. People trying to get you to join an MLM will tell you they are deducting their expenses so you can too, and if their MLM business is bringing them income which is higher than the tax-free threshold, they may well be deducting their expenses. However. The tax man gets grumpy on MLM people starting out who try and claim everything they spend on their business - Agel samples, Amway samples etc - as a tax deduction when they are not yet getting a large income from their MLM business. If your MLM business is earning less than the tax-free threshold, the ATO treats it as a hobby business and you can't claim expenses.

In my case, the main expenses I'll have are buying sets of new brochures from time to time and other stationery. Any candles or accessories I want to add to my kit I will get from 'hosting' my own candle party from time to time, as there are freebies for every person who hosts a party and depending on the takings from the party, the free candles could be up to $200 in value. If I achieve sales targets in the first three months the company will also give me a number of free accessories to use in my display kit.

My aim is that in a couple of years I can wind down the computer stuff and be, mainly, a candle lady. Ideally with a team under me, as that's how you really start to make an income from the business, obviously.

I hope, hope, hope I have found my niche. I need an extra income, I need something I can be passionate and confident talking about and demonstrating, and I need something people can afford and want. Hope it doesn't all go up in smoke!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Scarlet Pimpernel strikes again... and again... and again

Early in 2012 I spoke of my search for The Scarlet Pimpernel, a client for whom I did a lot of work over the course of around twelve months, and who (still) owes me payment for quite a bit of it.

I couldn't find her then and didn't have the money to hire a private detective until early this year, when I finally got a new address for her. It wasn't what I expected. She is living in a furnished apartment on the north shore waterfront. This cool pad with superb views is a holiday/long let rental advertised for $1400 a week by its managers.

To say I was gobsmacked was an understatement. Actually, I didn't believe what the detective told me. I thought it must be one of her more well-off family members who lived there as the Pimpernel is more or less broke. Broke enough not to pay her suppliers.

Two months later I had phone calls from two people I'd never heard of before but they had one thing in common - TSP owed them money too. They both confirmed the address I'd been given was correct.

I got my solicitor onto the job and we launched a new statement of claim against TSP. This time it included interest on the original sum. I can imagine the Pimpernel hit the roof when it was finally delivered to her. By that point she wasn't opening her door to anyone let alone a process server, and now I know why.

It's not just me and the two others (who have since been paid and in one case accepted a much smaller payment just to stop TSP bullying herself and her staff and harassing them via phone and email). There is another guy taking her to court for several thousand dollars. There is a former employer gagging her as she has been badmouthing his company and causing trouble with his staff and that is in progress in the courts this month too. There was another firm she owed around $15K to but bullied them down to only paying half, citing that she doesn't have a printer at her home so couldn't print out a contract to sign and therefore didn't formally agree to the initial sum; she has threatened them with legal action if they object. Today I spoke to yet another person who is owed money for design services and is about to set a lawyer onto TSP.

So that makes seven with a grievance or who are owed money, and let's add the person who my process server tried to find at TSP's old address a couple of years ago, around, I suspect, the time I was doing work for TSP. I don't know who that is but TSP owed them money too.

TSP is, I think, going into meltdown. She took down her corporate website a few months back and this month her blog is missing and her Facebook corporate page is gone. On Twitter she has described herself as being offline for now. The Scarlet Pimpernel is doing a vanishing act.

Until recently TSP has had a pet lawyer, her boyfriend, but I understand they have broken up and I suspect with summonses and statements of claim flying at TSP from all directions, TSP is probably at her wit's end.

I suspect she may do a bolt and my solicitor is lodging a Default Judgement against her tomorrow; hopefully she is still living in the expensive pad and that will arrive in her letterbox. If she doesn't challenge it within two weeks it goes to court. Once it goes through court it's valid for twelve years.

In a way I feel sorry for her, as her behaviour has followed a consistent pattern for many years - one of the people I've spoken to this year told me he had to chase her with a debt collector ten years ago and again earlier this year for a second transaction. He'd forgotten about her and it wasn't until she didn't pay him this year that he twigged the name was familiar, checked his records and the rest is history.

She clearly has mental illness of some sort and admits openly to it. She never said anything about her mental state to me when I was working for her, but has been blatant about it to people since then, as if that is an excuse for her behaviour. I do hope she doesn't do anything stupid - if I were in so much financial trouble I'd be feeling suicidal, especially if I didn't have a house to sell to cover my debts and legal fees.

But while I feel sorry for her I'm still angry with her; angry for lying to me and telling the same sort of lies to other businesses who she has treated in the same way. I'm not sure whether she deliberately engages freelancers and small businesses knowing she can't and won't pay them or whether she hopes her ship will come in and the money will magically appear from one of her other contracts. If it's the latter the ship is the Titanic.

The story continues...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Four little words

What are the four words you'd like most to hear?

If you're a mother, it's probably your child saying, "I love you, Mum."

Maybe it's your partner saying something similar: "I love you, darling."

It could be the tax office, telling you, "You have a refund."

For the shopaholics among us, "Absolutely everything half price!" is a winner.

Someone said four little words to me yesterday which lifted an enormous weight off my mind: "You don't have cancer."

A few weeks before I'd been for my first ever mammogram, and when I received a letter in the mail calling me back for a second appointment, I froze. That meant they'd found something, and that something could be anything or nothing.

The letter reassuringly said that 90% of women who were called for a second appointment were found not to have cancer.

The pessimist in me screamed, "What if I'm in the other 10%???!!!"

In the two weeks between receiving the letter and my tests yesterday, the "10%" hung in the back of my mind like a monster in a child's wardrobe; lurking and dark, just waiting to pop to the front of my mind, particularly around 2am each night.

I'd seen a close friend go through breast cancer treatment two years ago. I saw how exhausted she became as the chemicals damaged every organ in her body as they systemically killed the cancer cells. She had to paint her fingernails with dark polish to prevent them falling off, apparently. A thin woman, she became bloated around her middle. Her taste buds went on holiday. Despite using a 'cold cap' during treatment - which freezes your scalp and stops the chemo attacking the follicles - she lost patches of hair and, sadly, brought to mind a picture of a dog with mange. Even afterwards, when the hair grew back in, the effects of chemo were still making themselves known. A keen jogger, she found her legs turned to lead very quickly; even walking exhausted her leg muscles and still does. A side effect of the drugs was cataracts developing in both eyes, very quickly. Within six months she was almost legally blind. It can take five years to fully recover from chemo and all its side effects. It's a gruelling journey and the thought of taking that journey too chilled me.

Yesterday I had another squishy mammogram, followed by an ultrasound. I began to get my hopes up when the woman using the ultrasound was taking ages to find whatever it was she was looking for. She must have been swiping the machine up and down my right boob for a good ten minutes before making a satisfied noise and capturing several images.

"I'll just get the doctor," she said happily.

So you can imagine my relief when, after prodding my boob himself and doing some ultrasounding, the doctor told me, "You don't have cancer."  Four wonderful little words! A sweet little sentence! He decided the thing that was showing up was a cluster of tiny cysts, harmless enough.

"Relief" isn't a big enough word. I could almost physically feel worry floating out of my body. I swear I got dressed quicker than anyone on earth, quicker than a lover caught in bed by their rival. In between pulling my top on I breathed out hearty "thank you"s to everyone I could see.

I drove home grinning, delirious. I put The Beatles on the car stereo and sang along loudly. I was in the 90%.

For those of you in the 10%, you have my heartfelt sympathy, and my very warm wishes that your journey won't be too horrendous, and you'll get your life back sooner rather than later.  Please forgive me if I am so bloody overjoyed right now that I won't be joining you.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Old flames and their car dealer doppelgängers

I met my old lover 
On the street last night 
She seemed so glad to see me 
I just smiled 
And we talked about some old times 
And we drank ourselves some beers 
Still crazy afler all these years 
Oh, still crazy after all these years 

- Paul Simon.

Well, I didn't exactly meet my old lover. But I googled him. I googled all of them (didn't take long... how embarrassing is that!?).

I found something rather strange. There are people with the same names as two of my old flames operating second hand car dealerships in New Zealand. 

I know the Kiwi car dealers aren't my old flames, as one old flame sputtered out well and truly in the late 1990s - poor guy died with a brain tumour. The other is an engineer and living in Hong Kong.

The sputtered out old flame was, in fact, a car salesman himself and had been all his life - which made me wonder whether names affect your job destiny. He had a slightly uncommon name. It wasn't Ford Prefect either.

But what are the odds of two people having car dealerships and the same names as my old boyfriends? Perhaps I exist in a strange kind of space-time continuum.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Man 'flu isn't just for men. I am DREADFUL when I get a cold or virus. Much worse than any man.  Feed me Codral or Sinutab or whatever, I will still lie around moaning, irascible, bad-tempered and stuffy-nosed. Soldiering on doesn't cut it. I am sick, and I will BE sick, and I will BE SICK for as long as it takes.

Well, it took about ten days.

I haven't had a cold or virus for a couple of years. I take potentiated pollen pills - Nature Bee - and these seem to ward a lot of bugs off or stop them in their tracks. Last year I had the makings of sore throats and runny noses and my trusty pollen pills kicked them into touch.

However, whatever virus is doing the rounds this year caught up with me, and even six pollen pills a day didn't fend it off or make it less awful.

I get dreadful sinusitis and always have, every time I catch a cold. My head feels as if it's going to explode; I have fantasies about taking an axe to my face just to let the pressure out.

My personality when I have a cold is laughable in retrospect.  Today I'm about 90% back to normal, and I am considering my behaviour this time last week.

Drugged to the eyeballs on Codral etc, I was tired and didn't want to work, however as I work from home I felt obliged to put in at least half a day. Well. If I didn't moan and groan at my computer. Every email that came in drew a whine of 'ohhhhhh!'. I whined. And whined. And whined. Every time I hit the wrong key (which happens often as I'm a fast but inaccurate typist) I whined. Every time a client request for me to do something came in, I whined. I wanted to collapse in front of the heater with a lightweight novel, not do anything that required concentration. I wish I had taken video of myself in whiny action to give myself a good laugh later at my behaviour.

I tried to think about friends of mine who have been or still are seriously ill with much nastier stuff than a head cold. What would they make of my self-pitying whining? What right had I to whine and moan and carry on when friends have chronic problems?  That worked for about ten minutes then, with the self-absorbtion that an only child is superb at, the moans and whines kicked in again.

I am glad my cold is almost better - I have the remains of a cough and a snotty nose, but at least some energy has returned. As the cold disappeared, so did the moans and whines. Well, mostly *grin*! I'd love to have today off to just sit in the sun and let it warm me through, scald the last germs from my skin. It may be the middle of winter, but the Sydney sun has a little heat in it.

Tomorrow is Saturday - bliss! I hope after my two grumpy weeks I can face next Monday with a happier attitude and no more snot.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bagless liberation

Last night I went out without a handbag. I had my keys and phone in my jeans pockets and my wallet tucked into the inside pocket of my Driz-A-Bone.

It felt strange, but quite liberating.

You see, I always carry a bag. I'm not someone who walks about with her keys, wallet and phone in her hand, as I see some women do. I like a bag as that way my hands are free and I'm not likely to leave my phone, keys or wallet on a cafe table.

Like many women I started carrying a bag as a child/teen, in imitation of my Mum, who is definitely a handbag person.

Over the years I've had dozens of handbags. Dozens. Handbag junkie, me.

Because I'm bespectacled a handbag was a must before I got glasses with transitions lenses which are photosensitive. I had to always carry a pair of prescription sunnies as bright sunshine hurts my eyes.  I routinely carried a small camera everywhere too in case I saw anything interesting or amusing while I was out and about.  I used to get sinus problems so a handful of tissues was a must too. And makeup. And a book to read at my desk over a sandwich at lunchtime when I used to work full-time - and the sandwich as well!

These days my routine handbag contents run thus:

  • keys to my house
  • keys to my Mum's in case of emergency
  • keys to the office of my main client
  • phone
  • business cards
  • wallet - quite thick because of all the bloody cards I seem to have wound up with
  • extra case with other bloody store loyalty cards, just in case I need them to get a discount
  • a couple of lipsticks
  • mirror compact for lipstick application
  • a couple of pens
  • a tissue
  • regretfully, fags and a lighter on occasions

I typically take a bag that's big enough to include my iPad for business meetings and a more professional compact camera than my phone camera for business events.

Usually my preference is for shoulder bags and cross-body bags - bags that leave my hands free.

I could probably get away without a bag on more occasions if women's clothing was just that little bit more practical - you know, jackets with inside pockets to put my wallet in. I do envy men their jackets, and I envy women who can wear them and look great. I look like a dag if I try.

Women's wallets, by the way, are appalling these days. They are so damn big. I could use a man's wallet but then that means carrying an extra coin purse, as I don't always wear trousers with pockets. When I was on holiday last year I found a miracle at David Jones'  - a small wallet - into which I could fit my driver's licence, my frequent flyer card and my credit card, as well as cash and coins. Bloody lovely. I tried using it for a bit on my return but gradually needed to include the Woolworths' card (to get points for cheaper fuel), the FlyBuys card (same) and a couple of other 'regular' cards. With a sigh I went back to my usual wallet, which is also on the small side compared to the range of women's wallets which are the size of a clutch bag.

So yes, it was quite liberating to go out last night without a bag. I know women who go to parties without taking a bag, but in my case I was at the rugby. And that's another whole story!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lean green cleaning machine

As it says in the About Me blurb, I want to live in a world with fewer chemicals in it. One way I achieve this at home - for the most part - is using Enjo products to clean the house with.

I say for the most part as my husband G gets into the shower recess when I'm not looking and gives it a choking squirt of Exit Mould, just in case mould should consider appearing.

Over the years we've been together though he's embraced the Enjo system even if he doesn't use it properly.  With Enjo, you have a 'fibre' in the form of a glove, or a floor mop, which you dampen with cold water to wash your surface. The important bit is that you dry the surface off ASAP with a clean towel or an Enjo Miracle cloth. This way you get rid of an astonishing amount of bacteria as well as making the surface clean and shiny. Trust me, you do. Anyway G often forgets about the drying off bit. But at least he has a go.

My old Enjo glove fibres I use in the kitchen and bathroom were getting absolutely buggered, almost threadbare in parts. Enjo stuff isn't cheap however; replacements are $49 each and I had to save up a bit to buy replacements for them, which I got a couple of weeks ago.

$49 might seem a lot for a cleaning product but then I'm not buying bathroom cleaners, spray-and-wipe type cleaners or floor cleaning detergent. I reckon in the years I've had my Enjo gloves they have more than paid for themselves.

Enjo make a brilliant paste cleaner called Marble Paste for difficult stains, and really scummy shower screens etc - so I haven't had to buy Gumption, Spray and Wipe, Jif or anything else for eight years. I've only used half my Marble Paste tub as a little goes a long way. It uses orange oil as its cleaning ingredient.

I have never been a 'clean freak' but I fear clean freakiness is creeping in. Most of it is clearing up after G.

When he washes the dishes after breakfast at weekends (my job during the week) the sink and benches are soaked and there is water everywhere. G cheerfully mops it up with an Enjo and doesn't dry it off, so that's where I come in, and I usually end up doing every surface in the kitchen after that.

Whenever G eats anything or makes a sarnie he leaves crumbs - can it be that men just don't see these things? - so the benchtops usually get another quick wipe then to get the crumbs off. I use a carpet sweeper in the living/dining area most days - those crumbs again! He's a mucky pup - as I don't want to encourage ants. We hoover the place once a week to really pick up the animal hair.

Our bathroom mirror gets a daily spattering when G shaves before breakfast, so I get the Enjo bathroom Miracle and wipe it over while I'm cleaning my teeth after breakfast. I do wonder if he ever notices it's spotless every morning?

My new Enjo fibres have given me a new lust for cleaning as they are doing a much better job than the buggered ones. From being a chore, I now treat cleaning as a bit of exercise you can do every day. I figure with the carpet and floor sweeper, the bench wiping, the bathroom cleaning, I'm getting up to 30 minutes' of movement, using lateral muscles, every day. Without even trying.

I have turned into a lean green cleaning machine. Well, green cleaning machine anyway. I'm hoping the cleaning will help lead to the lean bit!

Friday, May 10, 2013

You bet - lamenting the death of the hand-scrawled bookie's ticket

As I mentioned in an earlier post this month I had a day at the races last week. Like just about every other industry you can name, technology has changed the experience.

Yes, there are still horses ridden by jockeys, but consider the humble betting ticket.

I like to bet with bookies. You know exactly what you are going to receive should your horse win. A sudden plunge on Grey Shrdlu may see his price come in from 6/1 to 3/1, but if you've bet with Bill Bloggs and not the tote (totalisator) at 6/1, 6/1 is what you'll get.

Not that 6/1 is mentioned any more. Nope, the elegant litany of the bookies rails has been decimalised. No longer do their boards show lovely and ancient odds such as 5/2 or 7/4, they show the dollar value of what you'll get should you wager a dollar and your neddy be first past the post. Just like the tote.

I think this is to make it easier for people to compare bookies' prices with tote prices. The tote has always shown dollar values, at least in my memory. (Which can be unreliable!!)

The bookies' boards, at least in Sydney, are now computerised, too. No more dramatic twiddling of the knobs to set the odds; the bookies' clerk taps into a computer and the odds change with no frill or fanfare.

Which means the tickets are now computerised, too. This is an example of a bookies' ticket in 2013:

It's very clear. You can see which horse, which race, what you bet and how much you get. Only Paximadia was an also ran and I got nothing :-).

But this is the bookie's ticket that I love and remember from racing days in the past:

Delighfully incomprehensible, isn't it? I have no idea of the date, which horse and which race. It's scrawled in crayon and it appears I got 17/1, I think - I'm not good at deciphering the bookie code. I suspect this dates back to the 1990s; I found it stuck in the leather racebook cover I bought in about 1991.

Just like a mother sheep and her lamb recognise each other in a field full of sheep, the bookie could look at this ticket and know exactly how much to pay you. (Tip: it's numbered. The bookie has a clerk with a ledger that has every bet in it.) Most of the time the bookie didn't even ask the clerk however - he just told you the amount from looking at this scrawl. It was rather mystical.

The advent of huge TV screens has changed the experience too. I think I was the only person at Hawkesbury with a pair of binoculars! There was a massive screen set bang in the middle of the infield behind the old winning post.
However, I do like to watch the actual horses myself. If I want to see a race on a TV screen I'll stay at home.

We all take our mobile phones for granted - and we take them everywhere! Phones used to be banned on racecourses until recent years. There wasn't even a public phone on a racecourse. This was to combat the evil scourge of the SP (starting price) bookie, another colourful part of Australia's wonderful horse racing past that has gone forever. SP bookies would operate illegally off course, in backyards and pubs, offering starting price (i.e. tote) odds. For the uninitiated, starting price odds are the odds payable when the gates open and the horses are racing, at which time bets are no longer accepted.

Some of these operations were huge and sophisticated, and linked to major crime syndicates - not a good thing. The small operations run by a bloke in the corner of the pub have a friendly feel about them though; one bloke operating outside the law and making a bit on the side, as well as providing a service to people who couldn't get to the course to place a bet. 

The advent of the NSW Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) off course betting shops in 1964 slowly killed off the SP bookie in NSW, and internet betting saw it well dead and buried. 

These days at the races you'll see people checking their laptops, tablets and phones for odds or placing a bet online (online, when you're at a racecourse. Go figure.). My, how things have changed.

I suspect that at country races the old-fashioned bookie's ticket still exists; next time I'm in a country town and it's race day, I'm going to find out.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Shrdlu, Gravy Bones and other Mercier delights

As a teenager I discovered the cartoons of the irrepressible Emile Mercier, whose take on 1950s life in Sydney is a perfect time capsule. Racehorses, politicians, housewives, drinkers, the art world... they were all grist to Mercier's wit-laden mill.

I'm going to be lazy here and quote Wikipedia: 'Mercier enjoyed including strange words in his cartoons, like 'ETAOIN' and 'SHRDLU'; nonsense words formed by the first two rows of keys on the old Linotype machines; words which sometimes - to Mercier's amusement - were accidentally included in real-life newspaper articles. 'CMFYP', the third line of keys on the keyboard, was sometimes used by Mercier as the name of a fictitious politician; the Honorable C. M. FWYP. Mercier also found the word 'GRAVY' humorous and included it a variety of contexts, including a trio of racehorses who were named 'GRAVY BONES', 'GREY SHRDLU' and 'CURLAMO' on signs above their stalls. Other Mercier's whims were depicting buildings, footpaths on floors supported by bed-springs, eccentric three-wheeled automobiles, yaks, and portraits of 'Uncle Ezra' on the walls of rooms.'

When you look at a Mercier cartoon there is often more to be discovered than just the main characters, as stated above. I particularly love his cats - scrawny, a bit bug-eyed, with a mangy tail.

In the late 1970s/early 1980s a couple of collections of his cartoons were published, and they are still treasured by me today.  Here are some of my favourite cartoons by Mercier:
See the number plate on the truck? NBG 123. NBG was shorthand for "No Bloody Good". And there's that funny little bearded chap peeping around the corner.

Classic Mercier humour.

Can't you just feel the heat and humidity of a Sydney summer in this one? Everything's drooping including the bloke in the portrait.

Now tell me you didn't involuntarily laugh out loud at this!

Shakespeare meets Mercier. Love it!  And look at the little flying cup and saucer in the sky...

Here are some of those cats with a classic Mercier spring floor. This one's very clean - Mercier usually hid objects in there - dogs, cans of gravy beef...

Mercier's bearded man in his ancient car, a frequent sight in the cartoons.

How topical is this? The Gai Waterhouse/John Singleton racing scandal broke last week...

I love the names Mercier gave his racehorses!

My love of Mercier's sense of humour got me into trouble at business college in the late 1970s. We had a very straight-laced teacher, Mrs Currie, who disapproved of me because I wasn't like the other girls. I didn't aspire to be a secretary or receptionist. No, I was going to be a journalist and made it clear I was learning shorthand and typing to assist me to get a job on a newspaper. Well, that never happened.

But I digress.

Back to Mrs Currie. Halfway through the year we were onto touch-typing our own letters (as opposed to diligently whacking out edc and rfv and qaz and ijn and ol, and other typing exercises). We could choose our own recipients' names for these business epistles. Not for this little black duck the Mr J Smith or Mr R Brown my classmates used. Nope. I drew on Mercier for inspiration and my letters were addressed to Mr Quincey J Erpnewt and Mr C M Fwyp, two Mercier characters. When the third letter was presented for Mrs Currie's approval, to be sent to Mr G Shrdlu, she pulled me up.

"You'll have to stop using these silly names," she admonished.  "I can't tell whether these are typing errors."

"Oh no, Mrs Currie, that's how they are spelled. I can show you the magazine here."

But Erpnewt, Fwyp and Shrdlu were banished. Mrs Currie told me to consult the telephone book and pick proper names. So... after much searching I was writing to people called Cholmondeley and Fitzhaugh etc.  At that time there was actually a Bastard in the Sydney White Pages.  Poor bastard (no pun intended). I wonder how many crank calls he got? Anyway I did consider it for a brief and beautiful moment, but knew Mrs Currie would hit the roof. She'd already spoken severely to me for saying "bugger". 

If Mercier had an influence on the names I used at business college, he also had an influence on my own cartoons. I confess to basing many of my cartoon cats on Mercier's design!

If you like Mercier's cartoons there is a wealth of them here on this blog. Enjoy!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bum freezers and giraffe legs - welcome to The New Races

I was sitting on the grandstand at Hawkesbury Races on Saturday when it struck me that I have been going to the races at irregular intervals for more than 40 years.

That's a very scary thought. I don't feel 40. I certainly don't feel 50, which, according to my birth certificate, I am.

I was ten when Mum finally bowed to my ceaseless pleas and took me to Rosehill to see Gunsynd, the Goondiwindi Grey, in action.

Back then the races were about betting and horses. People shuffled en masse from the parade ring to the betting ring then up to the stand or down to the rails to watch the race.

Now it seems the races are, for many, strictly about the social scene. About drinking a LOT, and for young women, wearing bum freezer skirts and ridiculous shoes. Fashion has always played a part at the races, but now for many of the younger racegoing set the races are about being seen rather than having a punt.

I watched several groups of young women down bottles of bubbly on Saturday. One group just in front of me on the stand didn't move all day aside from replenishing the bubbly supplies. I never saw them have a bet or brandish a tote or bookie ticket.  I suppose that's a good thing; gambling can ruin your life if you get in over your head or spend more than you earn.

I'm a small punter - $5 each way is about my limit. But I know that when I'm betting with a bookie or the tote, a percentage of my bet is being fed back into the racing industry. I think the TAB gives 10% back to Racing NSW.  So betting is like making a charitable donation but with the chance of winning it back several times over. :-) (And a big thank you here to Mouro, who won at 8/1 for me!)

But, as usual, I digress.

Back to the girls. Racewear has evolved, for those under 25 - and scarily for some women near my age - to dresses which barely cover your bum and which hug every curve on your body. If you are very young and slim this is fine, but leaves you a little exposed when you climb the stairs on the grandstand. (And do remember girls about how to sit like a lady with your knees together. Please.) If you are, like some of the girls, bigger than a size 12 you look bloody ridiculous. All the fake tan in the world - and there were orange legs galore on Saturday - can't disguise cellulite, and thighs which wobble when you walk are much better covered up with fabric.

This year's crop of chunky platform shoes doesn't do a delicate dress any favours, either. I saw some shockers on Saturday. Chiffon baby doll dresses are overwhelmed by chunky footwear - in one case I saw a nude chiffon micro dress teamed with enormous electric blue clumpies with ankle straps. They are be better suited with a killer stiletto.

As for the platform shoes... girls clunked along on their platforms like giraffes taking their first steps, stiff legged, descending the stairs with a death grip on the handrails, their head plumage - the inevitable fascinator - bobbing with each careful tread. By the end of the day girls were kicking off the heels and walking barefoot through the car park - another look which just doesn't cut the mustard. I'm so glad I've grown out of following fashion with the slavish neediness of a late teen (I was wearing a charcoal grey knit dress that sits just above the knee, with knee high flat boots; practical for galloping to and from the bookies' ring).

Another thing that doesn't really suit delicate party frocks is tattoos. Big ones. Little delicate ones... yeah, they look cool for the most part. But imagine a pretty girl in a strappy short dress with a massive tatt on her back and on one thigh too. It looks incongruous. Cheap.

Young guys have started affecting the racing trilby, a hat almost doomed to extinction in recent years and previously only the territory of the aged male racegoer or horse trainer. They don't wear it like the old guys do though; it's teamed with a colourful shirt and co-respondent shoes. And trilbies are available in more interesting colours now. It's nice to a see a guy wear a hat instead of a baseball cap.

A few years ago race clubs were bemoaning the lack of spectators and visitors to the races; they started marketing to the under 35s and so the races have become party territory. Now the race clubs are bemoaning drunken behaviour. It's often the gaggles of bubble-fuelled girls that are the trouble-makers.

Maybe they'll grow out of it; maybe they'll learn a bit about following form, have the odd bet and help the industry. Maybe those with good jobs will become part of a syndicate and own their own racehorse own day.

I am relishing being a Grumpy Old Woman; a curmudgeon. It's not that I don't want to see people having fun. I do! Nobody likes a bottle of bubbly more than I. But the races are the races, not just a party.

Dressing up is fun, and the races are an opportunity to wear clothes and accessories you wouldn't wear to the office. But the races aren't someone's 18th or 21st, held at night until the small hours. I would love to see racewear change and evolve into daywear more stylish than uber-skimpy skirts. All it takes is a couple of racing fashionistas like Kate Waterhouse to start wearing mid-thigh or above the knee skirts instead of bum freezers. Hope you're reading this, Kate.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A knotty problem

Muscle knots. Don't you hate them?

I got a doozy this morning. There I was in bed, half awake, on my side with my legs curled up. I decided to do a little stretch, then a little clench and WHAP!  I felt the muscle 'go' with a twang on the outside of my right knee.

I moved my leg. Not good. I got out of bed. Even worse.  I couldn't put much weight on my leg and it hurt like buggery to walk.

I rang a sports coach mate who took me through what happened and told me that if I hadn't heard a distinct "POP" it wasn't a tendon, it was a pulled muscle. Ice packs, he said, and put a tennis ball behind your knee when you sit at the desk to act on the pressure points.


All day I've been alternating between ice packs and my trusty Sunbeam Masseur machine, which has a deep muscle attachment. Both of these gave me an excuse to quit the desk and go lie on the sofa with a book (ice pack) or bed with a book (Masseur). I was having trouble concentrating on work anyway as my leg was aching.

By lunchtime I was hobbling a bit better.

In the end it was the Masseur that made the big difference. I smeared liberal amounts of Tiger Balm on my leg and got to work.  Moving around the affected area this afternoon I suddenly hit an ouchy spot, a real humdinger.  Hmm, that felt hard as a rock and I figured I'd found the problem. A knot.

There's a real exquisite agony to sorting this kind of problem yourself. I wouldn't have gone to a physio or masseur, afraid of the pain they'd inflict without warning. But when you DIY you can feel what you're up to and how far you can go.

Two intense Tiger Balm-laden sessions later my leg feels almost normal again. I'm not limping. I can walk up and down the stairs again.

This morning, when I thought I'd sprained a muscle and would be days hobbling and cursing, I cancelled all my meetings for tomorrow as there would have been no way I could drive. Tomorrow was looking like a bastard for meetings - too many of them. So suddenly I have a free day to crack on with other work and do my Mum's shopping (more important than meetings anyway). The knotty problem was a bit of a blessing after all. Was it worth the pain though? Nope. No injury is.

I'm seriously impressed with the old Sunbeam Masseur though :-).

Friday, April 19, 2013

Here's your birthday present. I already unwrapped it for you.

A close friend of ours is having a birthday next week, so given that he's an aviation nut, we bought three DVDs about aircraft for him. Great bargain - three for $25.95.

G was with me when we bought them, so he knew they were destined to be a gift.

Which doesn't explain why, when we got home, he calmly tore the wrapping off one and started to watch it.

"What are you doing?" I yelped.

"Oh, Chris'll never know," he replied airily.

"He mightn't be the sharpest tool in the shed but he'll see one of them has been opened."

"So I can open all of them and they'll look the same."

Dear Herbert!! What to do?  I don't have access to one of those clever machines that shrinkwraps things.

So after G had duly watched all three - realising along the way he already had one of them as a video tape from decades past - I experimented with ways to seal the boxes so they looked like new. I tried sticky tape over the opening. Yuk. I cut clear ConTact paper into a careful circle and stuck it over the opening. Still didn't look great.

I told Mum what G had done, as Chris is a friend of her's too, and she was horrified. "What did he do that for? Is he alright in the head?"

We both agreed that when Chris opened his present, his first reaction would be that we had given him three DVDs we had finished with and no longer wanted. In short, an insult.

It was with a sigh I went back to the newsagent today, without G, and bought three new copies of the DVDs. I won't tell G. I'll just make sure he doesn't do it again; next time I'll hide any DVDs we buy for others the instant we get home.

I'm giving the others to Mum to watch, as she was married to a pilot and finds aviation stories interesting. I'll just tell her to hide them when G and I drop in.

What's your view? Is giving someone a 'used' present (unless it's vintage, antique etc) an insult?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dogs are from Mars, Cats are from Venus

There are dog people and cat people. And then, there are people who behave just a bit like dogs and cats.

I always joke that I am part cat; I share a cat's liking for my own company, I prefer peace and quiet to parties, elegance and order to chaos, and the opportunity to have a thorough bath/shower every day and feel well-groomed. I have a regrettable sense of schadenfreude that any cat would appreciate, and my night vision isn't bad either. There are times when I don't want to be touched; if I had a tail it would swish with annoyance then. I am a cat person.

That being said, I also own a dog whom I love dearly - I have had both cats and dogs in my home since childhood. But I relate better to cats than dogs when all is said and done.

My husband G on the other hand has something dog-like about him. When I first met him I was reminded of a jaunty terrier, cheerfully sniffing around me. If he had a tail it would wave plumily and happily. Many men are like that; they're like dogs sniffing for a bitch on heat. G is gregarious, and enjoys human company far more than I. He's bigger than I both in height and width and when he walks in the door at the end of the working day the house seems much smaller and less spacious. It's a small place anyway but suddenly, like the cats, I'm having to weave around furniture and G to get from point A to B.

You've all seen that joke Diary of a Cat and Diary of a Dog. The cat's diary tells of plots and plans of escape; it is complex, while for the dog everything except a bath is simply "My favourite thing!"

G reminds me of the dog's diary every mealtime. Even if it's only bacon and eggs for breakfast, or a simple steak and veg for dinner, or even just crackers and cheese for lunch, he responds the same: "Oh Wow!" When I present him with a divine and powerful curry, or a dish that has taken a couple of hours to pull together perfectly, it's still "Oh Wow!" My favourite thing! I have to laugh. (And he eats like a dog too, shovelling food into his gob as quickly as humanly possible!)

Like our dog, G manages to position himself in my path when I'm trying to do things around the house. I do most of the cooking because I truly enjoy it, and it's a creative release at the end of the working day - that or the opportunity to take my frustration out on food with a big, sharp knife! Whichever cupboard I need to open, I can guarantee that G will have moved himself in front of it, arms hanging gormlessly at his sides.  If it's not him, it's our dog. With the dog, I can point to the door and say "Out!" and she'll give me That Dog Look and move to the living room. With G, it's a constant, polite "Excuse me," as I move him from in front of the cupboards time and again, until he gets the message and stands next to the dog! (The cats, meanwhile, have found themselves high perches out of the way.)

G loves me with a dog-like devotion. This is a good thing, as my previous relationships were mostly toxic, with me being the one doing all the loving. He has had very high-maintenance, cloying women in his past and when we first started dating he used to ring me from his home interstate every night. I mean every night. Sweet as it was it could be a bloody nuisance if I was going out with friends; if he couldn't get me on the home phone he'd try the mobile, worried that I'd be annoyed if I didn't hear from him. When he's on business travel he tries to ring every night and I've told him not to when his itinerary is a full one. I am very understanding having had jobs in the past myself which involve quite a bit of business travel and won't get cross or feel abandoned if the phone doesn't ring. Like our dog, I think he suffers a bit of separation anxiety when he's away from me!

Still, I am blessed. I have two beautiful and loving cats (really! they are!), a lovely dog and a great husband. Love my own company and my solitude as I do, I suspect I am better with him in my life than I was before I met him.

So, can you draw a cat or dog parallel with your partner - or yourself?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dots before my eyes.

Today's Mondayitis is brought to you by blue dots. Not to mention red and green ones.

Well, it isn't, really, it's brought to you by having to go out tonight to a networking function I have co-organised.  I always get depressed in the daytime before I have to go to these functions. Y'see, the networking functions are at the end of the day when I've had enough of the human race. I don't want to be changing into my business attire at 4pm and heading out. It's time to head home. Once I'm at the functions I'm fine though; get a glass of chardy into me and I'm quite cheerful.

But back to the blue dots.

The board which runs the association for which I do the networking nights is all in a kerfuffle about putting coloured dots on the name badges of the attendees for tonight's function. A blue dot means they are top level members, a green dot will mean they are middle level and a red dot means they are the lowest level.

My co-organiser for the event, whom I shall call The Fit One (as she is, she teaches gym classes part time), has already put dots on the name tags.

The poor chook will now have to take them off following a heated email discussion about the colour of the dots and whether all three levels of membership need dots.

Someone said they should be gold, silver and bronze instead. Just try buying bronze sticky dots at the newsagent, my friend. You might get the gold and silver, except they are likely to be star-shaped; the stickers which cheer up the kids in infants' school.

Someone else said only the top level members should get dots so people could see they were 'important'.

This was all getting a bit heated.

Our Leader (chairman of the board) has now sent an email around saying there will be no dots at all at tonight's meeting and we will discuss, as a board, the way forward regarding dots at the next board meeting.

The Fit One will be annoyed right now as she'll have to peel off all the dots as we undoubtedly don't have enough spare name tags WITHOUT dots!

Our Leader is taking her duties very seriously. She has developed a slightly patronising style of writing which irks me somewhat as the pedantic English she uses is often misspelt. If you can't spell it, don't write it down. The syntax bugs me though. She's trying to sound smarter and more imposing than she really is. It doesn't go with her bumfreezer skirts and low cut tops.

So we will spend at least fifteen minutes at the next board meeting talking about dots. Maybe the dot problem will be resolved, maybe it won't.

We have a very active Board at the moment who find a lot of ideas for The Fit One and I to pursue which is fine, but we have a very limited budget and the switch from blue dots to gold could make the difference between being in the black and the red.

It's enough to send you dotty.