Tag Archives: living in brisbane

My International Women’s Day lunch

I have to tell you about my lunch which makes me proud to be a daughter of a most exclusive group of women.   Four women in their very late 70s or 80s who have been friends for decades have a regular lunch date and when one of them cannot come they often include a daughter which this time happened to be me.Version 2

These wonderful women have such a variety of skills and talents and their lives have been packed with experiences. They have lived and worked overseas, been married, raised families, have successful interesting children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. They keep their brains alert with playing card games including bridge. They have been to more places than I have including the Amazon, Nepal, India, and Africa as well as the more traditional destinations of Europe and America. I cannot keep up with the number of books and journals that they read and their social life, as my husband says, ‘Would kill an ox.’ They are resilient and independent despite their age. You might expect their conversation to revolve around family, children and grandchildren etc. Perhaps it might include their ailments and the limitations of age. Forget it. Not once did they discuss illness, problems or the vicissitudes of life of which there have been a few.

These women are alert, intelligent and curious about life. The conversation around our table was vibrant and stimulating. I would go on too long if I gave you all the topics we discussed over our lunch but just to give you a quick overview I’ll start from where the discussion brought up David Morrison AO because his family and career were known to this circle of women. This naturally brought up the topic of gender diversity, its impact on professions such as theirs and how they managed. We segued smoothly into a discussion about minority groups and activists and how they are represented in mainstream media and society including films and television shows. The recent Sydney Mardi Gras came up in conversation with much laughter at the suggestion that perhaps they should have a float for the traditional (unnoticed older) heterosexual members of the population. This led to a discussion on government policies and the influence of minorities in decision-making and  the consequences of this on the Australian community. As women we all expressed concern about what comes across as a lack of strategic thinking in our politicians who seem to make decisions based on broadly watered down community consultation and what it takes to keep as many people happy as possible.  From here we moved onto what we expect of government, the quality and capabilities of our politicians in general, their leadership characteristics and the evolving role of our leaders, including the Prime Minister and whether a Prime Minister should attend or participate in the Gay Mardi Gras. Thus we discussed the LGBTI landscape and the Safe Schools education program and what its impact might be on families and society. These women have experienced good and indifferent education policies and we all would prefer it if the Education departments didn’t experiment on our children. This led onto their concern over what is commonly being perceived as a ‘witch hunt’ of Cardinal Pell, again known to some of these women from an earlier life. We reflected on the role of social media in society, the relevance of religion and how attitudes towards individuals have evolved in the workplace since when they first started working in the 1950s. And this wasn’t all we chatted about.

It was the most delightful and intellectually stimulating conversation I have had for a while. These gorgeous ‘old’ ladies expressed their considered opinions, listened to each other, and participated in a lively thoughtful discussion without once maligning or being hurtful about anyone. I cannot wait to be invited to join them again for lunch.

Raindrops of fantasy

Last week I awoke to a feeling of absolute delight. I could hear heavy succulent raindrops splattering on my tin roof. This rain would certainly be heavy enough to get through the leaf litter and into the soil. As we lay listening, to ensure he didn’t feel too neglected I enticed my knowledgeable husband into a discussion on the meteorological conditions that influence raindrop size. Scintillating I know, but I am a keen gardener. Enough said.

Web,-Watermark_Raindrops-on-CitrusI love rainy days because they tempt me to bring out my wet weather gear that doesn’t get a lot of wear in our dry climate. The garden skinks and spiders are brushed out of my Wellingtons, the umbrella mechanisms are tested to ensure they haven’t rusted out and my raincoats get aired and the dust shaken from the shoulders.

Sophie & Angus on Home Beach – Version 3I think raincoats can be such a fashion statement but here in Brisbane they aren’t commonly used other than by primary-aged school children wandering around in bright high-vis yellow plastic coats Paddington Bear style. We usually have wet weather in summer so wearing a coat just adds to the discomfort of wearing clothes. There is something to be said for living in a nudist colony in the sub-tropics.

As I child I loved dressing up, so it is with glee that at the first sign of rain I slip into my full-length waterproof coat with its pleated hood around me. There is something about an elegant cape that triggers fantasy and imagination in most adults.  The reversible coat is forest brown and shiraz red which does tempt Captain A to comment that I look like an ageing Red Riding Hood in camouflage whilst I feel as if I could swish across time zones fighting evil dragons rather than just wolves in the forest. Leaving my childhood I can always turn to another favourite Susie in raincoat hood fashion model.  I could wear a light trench coat that reminds me of Audrey Hepburn. It is very practical even when riding a bike but the problem occurs when I arrive at my destination because Brisbane hasn’t yet embraced the concept of cloakrooms where wet coats and umbrellas are placed.

 

I remember as a child walking home from school in the rain, bare foot in the gutter, making dams with my heels, and feeling the cool water surge across my toes. Absolute bliss!  Wellies may not be my fashion statement choice but they do serve a purpose. My large yellow boots were a lifesaver when wandering through the flooded streets in Venice during a snowy November. The pavements were so cold it was warmer wading and my only challenge was preventing the bow wave from washing the cigarette buts and rubbish into my boots. Now, in Brisbane these boots have Susie in St Mark's Sq, in wellies – Version 2been relegated to the shed where they make a foray into the garden more pleasant after heavy rain and hopefully, are a deterrent to the odd snake. Captain A who feels I am reverting into fantasy, has developed an inclination to spray what he perceives to be escapee caterpillars from Alice in Wonderland. I put up with their discomfort but I have to agree with him that they are cumbersome and inelegant and I shouldn’t be seen out in them. Definitely not car to bar shoes!

Thus, if it continues to rain during the morning will I use an umbrella but which one?

My first choice would be a small flip-up umbrella that inevitably does flip but upside down in any breeze.  I cannot count the number of small umbrellas I have left around the world, because I avoid putting a wet item into my handbag which already contains camera, iPad, iPhone as well as lipstick and sunglasses. Small folding umbrellas are workable only in very light showers and once our tropical downpour starts the only option to prevent drowning through inhalation of raindrops is to use the large golf umbrellas that have become corporate billboards. Compromise has been reached in our Andrew with umbrella in LAhousehold with me carrying the small umbrella when on my own, but when sharing the large size, it is Captain A’s responsibility. I am not sure he agrees with me but it is that or we both get wet. I remind him that we once witnessed a discussion in a Gentlemen’s outfitters shop in London where a customer deliberated between two umbrellas each costing over £400. And that was at the lower end of the price range. I really do think a pocket handkerchief and a snazzy umbrella contribute to the male sartorial style and have suggested Captain A consider it his fashion statement or weapon as John Steed did in The Avengers.

A tightly furled umbrellas is particularly useful in claiming space in a crowd in addition to tripping the odd irritating passer-by. When I see a phalanx of umbrellas charging towards me from across the street I am tempted to run in the opposite direction. I am surprised in our risk adverse society that we don’t get issued with a warning and instructions on what not to do with an umbrella. Even when it is a dismal wet day I will wear sunglasses so that the points from someone’s umbrella don’t remove my eyes. I think I should also carry a bucket.

BBC 4 umbrella sculpture

Umbrella sculpture outside BBC4, London.

The water has to run off these umbrellas somewhere but why does it have to be down my back. Recently while I was waiting at the pedestrian lights in the city, minding my own business and keeping dry under my dinky umbrella I felt water trickling down my back and into my shoes. My neighbour was completely oblivious of the damage being done to my attire much less my sense of wellbeing. At least I didn’t have a carry bag full of purchases also getting wet.

My saddest umbrella experience was occurred during a stormy afternoon when along with everyone else I was doing last minute Christmas shopping hoping I could get it all done and meet the next day’s deadline for postage home. I had a cache of bags with all my purchases clutched tightly under one arm to avoid getting wet, a shoulder bag slung over the other arm and with my free hand I was carrying an opened umbrella bent against the wind. I got to my destination, sat down and as I moved the bags containing my gifts out of pedestrian way, I thought they felt very light. I had been totally oblivious that the rain was dripping off my small foldup umbrella into the bottom of the carry bags which being paper, and once damp, tore apart and allowed all my carefully chosen presents to fall out. I think I was more upset about the time wasted than the money.

Umbrellas are an appendage we don’t know what to do with. Next rainy day, watch people shut their brolllies, shake the water off and then look around wondering what to do with them when they enter a shop? The drops make the smart marble floors as slippery as an ice-skating rink and the pile of brollies is very tempting to sort through as they leave and I am sure you won’t mind if I take the one that hasn’t got the broken strut.

Playing in raincoats – Version 2
We need to encourage more workplaces and shops to install the clever apparatus that encases the wet umbrella in a plastic bag and perhaps we could put the odd damp child in there as well and contain them. That is one thing to be thankful for, I don’t have small children to entertain on wet days. Been there done that!

 

 

Toilets as works of art

 

I banned ‘toilet talk’ at the dinner table when my children were young but this was different. I had just suggested to the grandchildren they do a pit stop before going to the park and undertaking a 2-hour drive home. These children looked at me as if I was quite mad but having lived or stayed in many unfamiliar towns over the past couple of years, I was used to taking advantage of knowing where a toilet was before venturing out for the day. Los Angeles and London were fantastic, particularly their department stores. This made me think of tourists to Brisbane and my daughter who commutes between many cities and locations queried how would a tourist manage if they needed a toilet in Brisbane.

I could answer that easily as when I was potty training that daughter I think we visited every public toilet facility in Brisbane.  However, 30 years ago there weren’t many so I became cunning and learnt a few tricks such as going into the lobbies of the Sheraton and Hilton Hotels or the David Jones and Myer department stores. The other good option was the art gallery and museum on the other side of the river (if she could wait that long).  I certainly couldn’t rely on public facilities to assist. I remember the staff of the local library telling me that the toilet was for staff use only and that I would have to take my little girl elsewhere. Anyone who has had children will know that isn’t often an option so we charged outside to the nearest tree in the park adjacent to the library and I hoped the librarian was watching from her window.

Shopping with small children was always a fraught situation and expensive, as there is nothing subtle about three toddlers in a shop all needing to use the toilet. I have bought a lot of orange juices in my time. My grandmother used the term ‘Spend a Penny’ which I didn’t understand until I began travelling around Europe where it is common practice to pay to use a toilet facility although I think it is unfair that we women support the men who don’t have to pay to use the facility. Talk about gender inequality.

Loo doors. Highway 'Services' en route Ribeauville to NormandyWe have had some funny and peculiar toilet experiences in our travels.

I have been to beautifully appointed loos such as the Savoy in London but the prettiest were the doors of toilets at a service station on the A5 in France. The pictures of birch forests in the men’s and foxglove flowers (also called ladies’ gloves) in the girls’ were spectacular.Loo doors. Highway 'Services' en route Ribeauville to Normandy                                I was intrigued with the rotating toilet seat, which came out with a new disposable plastic cover. It was tempting to press the button just to watch its action as the seat disappeared into the wall and reappeared fully dressed.

My daughter and I also found ourselves standing in front of a rather confusing toilet which looked like a space capsule in a car park in Toulouse. Neither of us could work out how to get into the capsule until a homeless fellow sitting nearby took pity on these two pathetic women and showed us how to do it. Inside, it really did feel like a space ship as it was totally hands-free; the door locked itself, self-flushed, motion sensor water and soap control, and only after that did the door unlock. You had to be quick as after an allocated time the door opened automatically. After each person, the entire system was sprayed and sanitised, thus the name Sanisette.  That homeless person earned his tip from us that day.

The most surprising toilet was at Malpensa airport outside Milan. I am not sure whether it is a requirement of EU regulations but we discovered that the ladies’ toilets still has a squat toilet. This was a challenge particularly as we were wearing long high heeled boots and stove pipe jeans. I am not sure who laughed more, my daughter or me but my New Year Resolution is to improve the muscle strength in my quads by doing more squats.

I read recently an entry on aixcentric complaining about the lack of public toilets in Aix-en-Provence. My advice is to encourage the local council to begin a ‘Toilet map’ such as the one in Australia set up by the Department of Health and Ageing as part of the National Continence Program. So no, it wasn’t initially set up to assist tourists or parents of small children but who cares it is still a very useful map of where the 16,000 public and private toilets are located.  I think it is a brilliant idea.

A new kitchen and another connection to tie me down.

What do you think about when you are awake in the middle of the night? For me, it was the happy exercise of how to renovate my house in which I hadn’t lived for 5 years and what to plant in the very neglected garden. I don’t think I ever got to finish these thoughts before I would go to sleep.

This is the kitchen which had many happy meals prepared in it. Note of course the vegemite jar.

Now, back in Brisbane, those dreams are becoming a reality. It wasn’t a grotty kitchen just tired and showing its 15 years.

Well the planning and installation of that new kitchen are almost finished, just awaiting a couple of pieces of glass on the splash back to complete the glamorous version of my dreams. I was amazed at how quickly a kitchen can be dismantled. I had over 5 workmen, including electricians and plumbers pulling out cupboards and sink.

Removing the kitchen cupboards

This is the image of all these fellows beavering away.One day to pull it out, one day to put the frame in, and then a wait for 2 weeks before the doors and drawers were installed.

The dislocation and irritation of having to wash out of a tub in the bathroom, and have the food and groceries sitting on every available horizontal surface for a fortnight was minor in the scale of things. To add to the mess, we also pulled down the wall surrounding the stairwell and had the sideboard and pine kitchen table resurfaced.

Just occasionally a small niggling thought crept into my mind that Andy believes if he gives me a lovely kitchen it will induce me to stay in Brisbane. Not that he would admit this of course, as he just says that ‘a good cook deserves a decent workplace’. Cunning and perhaps he reckons it is worth the investment. I think this is emotional blackmail although I acknowledge that the Zug induction cook-top and steam oven are fabulous pieces of equipment and a pleasure to use.

"No, I won't go out in the rain."

Despite my intentions of not being tied down to living in Brisbane how could I say no to my son and his Bengal cat, Colin.

Colin was intended to be company for my daughter-in-law while her husband was on an overseas posting for 5 months but this kitten hadn’t been schooled in the traditional characteristics of his breed and would dig his claws into any hand that came near him. We blame it on a ‘troubled’ kittenhood.  Tolerance levels and band aid supplies having been depleted, and with no medical cover for skin grafts, Colin was despatched to live with a friend in Brisbane who had already adopted one of my Burmese while lived in London. It soon became obvious that despite his bolshy adolescence, Colin was no match for a tiny grand-dame of 15 years who was not about to let just any fellow sleep with her mistress. Poor Colin again found himself searching for a home.

He moved in with our daughter for a couple of weeks and found, absolute bliss, she didn’t mind sharing her bed with a hairy beast that came and went in the middle of the night, but her professional lifestyle includes three or four days per week out of the country which meant that Colin was again living in a locked up unit.  Thus within two days of our arriving back in Australia, Colin arrived on the doorstep.

Bengals like to drink from running water, but I draw the line at a cat drinking from my bath, so I have invested in a seriously expensive water fountain, which he refuses to use. We have reached a situation where Colin sits in the bath, sans water, looking pitifully at the spout, miaowing gently until I eventually give in and turn it on. I have however, noticed dirty paw prints in front of the fountain which indicates that this stubborn cat might be using or at least contemplating a possible drinking alternative to dying of thirst in our recent 30 degree days.