Packing it all in

suitcase1I write to you from the land of the Kiwis, the home of the All Blacks and bottlers of the finest Sauvignon Blanc. Where chips are “chups”, sex is “sux” and lots of fun things “hair-pen” (happen…)

New Zealand.

It’s a bit of a mini-break. My husband had a few meetings in Wellington and I had a few dollars spare on my credit card.  Win win – for him, for me and for Westpac.

Wellington has more bars and restaurants per head of population than anywhere else in the world. It also has more shoe shops. Walk down Lambton Quay, which is the shopping equivalent of the Queen Street Mall or Orchid Avenue in the 1980s, and you’ll get sore feet from walking in and out of shoe shops.

The only smart thing to do of course is to have a nice sit down on one of the comfy chairs in the shoe shop. And while you’re there, it would be silly not to try on a few pairs. Wasteful, really.

I know I’m not alone in saying that I love to travel. Hell I get excited at an overnight stay in the country to attend a wedding. By country, I mean Ipswich. I try not to go too far west of Kenmore.

What I’m not good at is the packing part. I’m not good at working out what I’m going to wear for the next few days or weeks and getting it all into a suitcase.

Sure I check ahead to see what the weather is going to be like. I see what functions and events we will be going to. I ask my husband to tell me what the baggage weight limit is on the plane.

Then I pretty much open my wardrobe and throw its entire contents into as many suitcases as required.

In the second Sex And The City movie, Carrie gets on the Abu Dhabi-bound flight wearing a hat so enormous it needed its own boarding pass. That hat is never seen nor heard from again. Yes yes I know it’s a movie but she sent a very clear signal that packing doesn’t need to measured or sensible.

What I tend to overlook is that for the most part, I’m travelling to places that have shops and credit card facilities and ATMs etc. If I forget something crucial – a particular lipstick in a fetching shade of rose pink or a pair of black tights – there’s always more at the shops.

The bigger problem is that I don’t leave room for any holiday shopping. That normally requires the purchase of an additional bag. And quite often the purchase of additional baggage allowance.

Travelling by car, whilst devoid of the whole international immigration clearance and duty free shopping fun, means that there’s no real limit on bags.

And it means I become delusional.

Say I’m going to the Gold Coast for a week. I get it into my head that I’m going to be all Mother Nature and Mrs Home Maker and cook a few recipes that are on my cooking wish list. This requires the packing of the wok, my knives, my mortar and pestle and goodness knows how many other kitchen gadgets.

Reality being that we eat out pretty much for three meals a day.

Once I was determined to embrace a healthy outlook and packed my juicer and all manner of vegetables. The juicer never left the boot of my car and the vegies went the way of the compost bin.

About 10 years ago, I was in Singapore with one of my best friends, enjoying this Asian hub’s sights, sounds and tastes. There was lots of fun things to buy, especially in the newly emerging electronics sphere. When it was time to come home, I couldn’t for the life of me get my bag shut.

In desperation, I held my bag firm while my friend bodily dove from one of the twin beds to the other where my case lay gaping, attempting to use the force of body weight to shut it. It is possible we may have been drinking when we came up with this Herculean idea. It didn’t work. I had to buy another bag.

Another time, in Europe, I was at a check-in counter in Slovakia being told that the baggage limit was 15kg or face horrendous fines.

I got the weight of my case to the prescribed limit, but only through wearing three jackets, draping two pairs of boots about my neck, throwing out my shampoo, conditioner and body lotion, and dragging two carry-on bags.

This trip is only a week but I think I’m doing ok. The test of course will be at the Qantas counter on Monday.

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WWT’s solution to speeding

In 1974, when my brother was a tiny baby, Mum would sling his basinet onto the back seat of the car, and then get behind the wheel and drive off to the shops. I don’t think she even put a seat belt around it. I can also remember leaving a New Year’s Eve party with my folks around the same time, and laughing at my dad because he was honking the horn and driving all over the place, because he was pissed.

Thankfully now, with compulsory seat belts, red light and speed cameras, air bags, better roads, better designed vehicles and driver awareness education, we know better. We know not to speed, we watch our number of drinks and we take care when driving in the rain.

Well, most of us do. There’s still some idiots who sit in the pub and go, “glug glug glug, I only live down the road, another schooner thanks Doreen, glug glug glug, no one is out at this time of night, glug glug glug, I’ll be right.”

And maybe they are. And then one day they’re not. One day (or night) the police are wandering around that neighbourhood and they’ve got a fresh breathalyser and they see this fool leaving the pub and think, “I might just check that out.”

Then there’s an 18 year old who has just got his Ps and a 1994 Commodore, all on the same day. What’s he going to do? Drive it like he stole it, of course. There am I, tottering along Gympie Road in my 1.6L car when this idiot rushes by, weaving in and out of traffic without much thought for his fellow drivers or his indicator.

Or when it is bucketing down with rain and I’ve slowed my speed, another fool is sitting right up my tail pipe. If I cared less for my car, and my own life, I’d be tempted to slam on the brakes just so I could say, “You tosser”.

Now anyone who knows me will know that I do not have the cleanest of driving records. I’ve got what is affectionately known as a lead foot, even though it is shod in fabulous heels. I’ve been nabbed by the red light camera on the Story Bridge approach from Main Street, and I’ve had those intimidating blue flashing lights behind me when I was doing 130 on the Gold Coast highway.

So I am in no position to judge.

All the media hype and police advertising is correct though. Speeding kills. You can’t disagree with that. It’s a message that has been drummed into drivers for so long now it is almost like the 11th commandment. Thou shalt not speed. Yet still it happens; yet still it is identified as the blame in road fatalities.

Why?

My concern is that in Queensland we don’t have severe penalties. My fine was about $200 and three points. The government let me pay off this fine at $20 a month if I chose, and will still give me a chance to accrue a further nine demerit points before they get serious.

What if, my loves, what if the fine for speeding was $2000? What if you were not allowed to pay that off over five years at $20 a month. What if you had to produce your living expenses budget to some authorised officer, and he/she would say, “Cancel your gym membership, no money for going out or buying clothes, your hair appointment can wait, so can your nails, cut your grocery bill in half, no alcohol and only pay the minimum on your credit card. Now, you will live like that until this fine is paid.”

Would that make a social change? Would that be a big enough incentive to make speeding a disincentive?

I earn a reasonable enough salary, but let me tell you, a fine of $2000 is going to hurt. Really hurt. With the goal of hopefully making it hurt so much that I would think very carefully before ever exceeding the speed limit again.

The bleeding hearts amongst us will cry that it is discrimination or unfair on minimum wage earners. To me, discrimination is when the car mechanic will only talk to my husband, and unfair on minimum wage earners is when they are denied free health care for their children.

As a kid growing up, I had a mother who was somewhat fond of the wooden spoon when I was naughty. So fond of it in fact that she broke one or two of them in the process of whacking my backside. Even now, I cannot use a wooden spoon when cooking without feeling slightly menaced.

When I outgrew the wooden spoon, I was grounded when I misbehaved. I had my pocket money and phone privileges taken away and I wasn’t allowed to even walk down the street to get milk.

Ergo I was punished in a way that severely impacted on my standard of living and my quality of life.

Ergo (again) it was easier to simply do what Mum and Dad asked me to do ie keep my room tidy, do the breakfast washing up and not take up smoking.

In simple terms, don’t break the rules.

So if you’re speeding along at 90km/hr in the 60 zone, and you get caught, you should get the wooden spoon from my mother.

Failing that, you should be hit with a dirty great whack of a fine. A fine so big that it disrupts your standard of living and your quality of life to such a point where you realise it is easier to follow the rules.

After all, they’re there for a reason.

Have you met my mother?

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How to end rape

I’m not a bloke, and maybe that’s why I don’t understand why men rape.

It seems that you need to perform a lot of dangerous criminal acts in order to get laid. Be it abduction, deprivation of liberty, assault with intent to harm, and of course unlawful carnal knowledge. To name a few.

When you’ve finished having sex, you don’t want to hear a judge saying, “You are accused of grievous bodily harm.” You want to hear, “Oh my God, you were magnificent” and “You’re the best” from the gorgeous lady to whom you’ve just made love.

Would it not be easier to [Read more…]

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Back in my day

So Brisbane teenager Jordan Fuller justified the brawling rabble that ensued when his party was shut down by police as “what kids do”.

At least he got the “kids” part right. Because that’s what they are – kids. Children, juveniles, adolescents, minors, youths, teenagers. Not adults.

And as such, they should bloody well do as they’re told.

Well, at least we did back in my day.

So this turd of a kid [Read more…]

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New Year’s Eve 2013

The best part about 2013 was enjoying the month of December. Remember back in 2012, we watched the months slip by with dread, believing that it would all go up in a raging Mayan-inspired apocalyptic blaze on 21 December, leaving the world overrun with zombies and nary a Bruce Willis in sight?

But Earth dodged a bullet, and we spent 2013 pretty much drunk on relief and joy. And repaying our Visas because naturally we had maxed them in the foolishness of end of world actions.

The biggest news of the year would have to the twin girls born to Kate and William. Little princesses Diana and Victoria [Read more…]

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Girl, you’ll be a woman soon

Every now and then, I topple over and twist my ankle. Sometimes it’s because I’ve had too much to drink and my heels are too high and my husband is too far away for me to balance against him.

Sometimes it’s because I’m making like Elle Macpherson and jogging on the beach in a bikini and go A over T in a hole in the sand.

Sometimes I am just walking down the street minding my own business and over I go. My husband always tells me not to walk and text at the same time.

The result of this constant clumsiness is that my ankle invariably ends up tightly bandaged in this stretchy crepe material for a few days.

And on Christmas Day, at the buffet lunch at the Gold Coast casino, I found out that the same stretchy stuff is now being used for dresses.

Or so it appeared. [Read more…]

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Not everyone is back in business

There’s a house in Rocklea, in Brisbane’s south-west, about 12km from the city centre. It’s home to a very dear friend. It’s a post-war home, reminiscent of many in the area when Salisbury was the epicentre of the 1950s industrial boom.

It has three bedrooms, one of which has been converted for use as a beauty spa. The renovated kitchen boasts an open plan dining area. The quaint bathroom gleams with sparkling tiles and a new loo. There’s a covered patio for long Sunday barbeques, a garden full of fruit trees and a fledgling olive plant. There’s two water tanks, two dogs, and a whole bunch of happiness.

Well, there used to be.

On Thursday, 13 January, flood waters went through the roof of this home. Literally. The beautifully renovated kitchen was invaded by the insidious water that held Brisbane hostage. The disgusting muck surged down the toilet, in between the walls and through the cracks in the polished wood floors. It carted the water tanks away, ripped up the fruit trees and disintegrated the doors and walls.

What was left was a heaving, rancid mess – utterly uninhabitable, unthinkably ruined, devastatingly lost. It wasn’t a home anymore, it was a dump. A wasteland of memories, happiness and sunshine days.

But it was still her home. And that’s the hardest part of all the horror that was the Brisbane floods. It’s still her home even though it is not fit for a wild animal to prowl through during the night.

My dear friend learnt the hard way, as did many many Brisbane home-owners, that insurance cover doesn’t always mean insurance cover . The scoundrels who run these agencies nit-picked fine print to death and managed to invent several meanings for flooding.

Silly me, I always thought flooding was a result of too much water coming down and the rivers and dams not being able to process it quickly enough, so therefore our homes, parks and streets were filled with water.

Apparently not. Whatever caused the flood, they said they’d only cover for the other reasons. Oh, and then said premiums would need to rise to cover their costs. Huh? Isn’t that what insurance is all about. What would I know, I’m just a writer and a home-owner. Mmmm.

So my dear friend lives day by day, battling tears, despair and adversity in an attempt to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that her gorgeous home has become. Little by little she saves up to get some new doors, or to fix the plumbing or to get a new stove. But it’s not fast enough.

It’s now over four months since those dark January days that stopped our city. And for all the lauding on the media that Brisbane is “back in business”, let’s not for a second forget that many people are not anywhere near opening their doors for business, let alone even having a proper door that you can open in the first place.

Just today, I took a drive around the streets of Rocklea, in that little residential pocket off Marshall Road near the McDonald’s. It was an old stomping ground of mine some years ago and holds some very fond memories.

Homes now lay vacant, their doors and windows wide open in surrender. The flood waters won the battle, and they also won the war. Dirty exterior markings brag how high the water rose. The air is putrid with resignation and anguish. A few brave souls soldier on, gamely employing construction crews to right the wrongs. Or simply to jack their home as high as council will allow.

But for many it is just too much. They’ve walked away. Tenants and owners alike. The “for sale” signs are plentiful, as are “for lease” signs. The warm camaraderie that I always knew to exist is still present, just in a very decreased number.

The place I called home all those years ago has been gutted. No longer is there the kitchen where I lovingly prepared my daughter’s meals. Nor the street-facing room where I concocted blogs and columns, and proudly started a small business. I didn’t need a doorway to pass between rooms anymore.

All I could see was the claw foot bath. Not even the nastiest of flood waters was going to move that sucker!

So people, all I ask, is that you spare a thought, and maybe a prayer, for some of our folk who actually aren’t back in business or on the road to recovery. Our folk who still live in rented accommodation because they can’t face the muck that awaits them back home. Or haven’t left the security of mum and dad’s to sort out the mess that once was their home.

Or the brave ones, like my friend, who have no other option than to live in the remnants of their own castle and who each day, try to make a little bit of a difference.

They’re not back in business at all.

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A flood of memories

Not so long ago, Brisbane (and large parts of Queensland) was conserving water by showering every third day with a thimbleful of water, urinating outdoors and filling the dog’s bowl with beer.

We were in the throes of a massive drought. Our dams were dry. Our tanks were dry. And so were the clouds.

I think there was even that moment when former Premier Pete saw fit to scutter off to Singapore and beg them to allow us some of their bottles of recycled water so the state could clean its teeth. In true form, of course, the state revolted, not dissimilar to what we do when New South Wales wins at Origin or when too many Victorians crowd our beaches in summer. We were just fine with our teeth the way they were.

Then, just as it was reaching critical mass, when we were considering syphoning water from the Brisbane River to make our coffee, it began to rain. And rain and rain.

And rain.

To the point where, today, Wivenhoe Dam, the water supply king for south-east Queensland, is opening its spill gates because, quite frankly, it’s got too much water.

With so much rain in SEQ in the past month or so, talk has turned to the Great Flood of 1974. Over a five day period between 24th and 29th January 1974, around 900mm of rain fell and the Brisbane River reached a height of 6.7 metres, four metres above normal levels.

And my mum was pregnant. We were holidaying on the Gold Coast, along the Nerang River. We woke to find the garage and ground floor units awash, the swimming pool and garden disappeared under water, and dad was wondering how he was going to get his paper.

The road to Brisbane was cut, the rain wasn’t stopping, and as it was a Saturday. Meaning our holiday had ended and we were required to vacate.

My mother has a 6th sense and a storeroom of nifty ideas. When flooding threatened, she had popped down to the car and covered the exhaust with cling film (such a housewife). This simple act apparently saved something or other in the engine, because when the water subsided, dad was able to effortlessly start the car. Still not too sure what happened there, but I was only eight and had too many wines since then to fully remember every detail.

Mum had an appointment with her obstetrician on the Tuesday which she wasn’t keen on missing. Dad wasn’t keen on her missing it either. But we couldn’t get back to Brisbane, so the four of us (I have an older brother) descended on some distant relatives buried in the Currumbin Valley who had a spare room.

Oh my, weren’t they thrilled to have four extra people and no fresh food deliveries for miles around. I remember eating a lot of porridge and watching the adults drink a lot of red wine. Even mum had a few. But that was back in the days when cigarette advertising was on television and a Datsun 120Y was a car of choice.

Tuesday rolled around (by now, the date is 29 January 1974) and we made the arduous trek north on a very dodgy road known even then as the Pacific Highway. It was basically a cattle track.

We drove straight to Wickham Terrace, the location of choice of uptight supercilious obstetricians and ENT specialists. Still is, I guess. Except I believe there’s a smattering of plastic surgeons as well.

While mum waited for her appointment, dad took my brother and me for a wander around Brisbane CBD to view the damage.

I clearly remember standing at the high point of Albert Street, where it crosses with Queen. My Brisbane readers, or anyone who has read books by John Birmingham or Nick Earls, will know what I mean. There’s a dirty ugly mall there now, but back then, it was just a street. And not a very good one either, because it was flooded.

Looking down towards the Botanical Gardens, I could see the sign for Festival Hall forlornly yet proudly keeping itself aloft. Kids were swimming around in the flood waters and using the roof of Festival Hall as a diving platform.

I did ask, but dad wouldn’t let me go and join them.

The other thing I clearly remember was the mortification of being in the city wearing nothing but a Sea World t-shirt, terry-towelling shorts and rubber thongs. Circa 1974, a trip to town meant wearing my communion dress and black patent Mary Janes.

My baby brother was born the next day. One month early. I remember we were at home when mum’s waters broke as she was standing in the kitchen peeling potatoes for dinner.

“As if there isn’t enough bloody water around us already,” was her only comment.

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Bali beauty

Bali’s been in the news a bit lately. Julia Robert’s outing in Eat Pray Love showcases the area’s tranquil richness. And Javier Bardem’s emanating hotness. And sadly, today, October 12, is the eight year anniversary of that horrific night of bombing where 202 people were killed.

It was only this year that I took my first trip to Bali. Long time listener, but first time caller. I’ve been fortunate to travel our gorgeous planet widely but for some reason, had never been to Bali.

Maybe because Australia’s Gold Coast is less than an hour away from me. Or perhaps I harboured concerns that my shopping purchases would require a charter flight back to Brisbane. Which kind of negates the purpose of all that cheap shopping.

And, I mean, of course, there’s that Schapelle/Bali 9 cloud.

Well, I fell in love with the place. I’ve been to other Asian countries, but this gem was instantly welcoming, friendly and happy. Its people may have been poor but they were happy. Laugh out loud happy. I think there’s something in that for all of us, don’t you?

Bali outwardly appears to have harsher sentencing regimes and criminal punishments regarding drugs (reference Schapelle comment above). No Australian-style resort prisons where you are offered three meals a day, in-room laundry service and a chance to study for a university degree.

But feel free to crack open a Bintang beer and suck down its brewed hops while you wander at leisure down one of Kuta’s multitude of shopping alleys.

Light up a fag as you flick through this season’s fake D&G singlets or Chanel sunglasses. Hell, feel free to flick the butt straight into the street.

Tidak masalah. No problem.

(Although I had to laugh at the stand of fake Christian Dior sunglasses that had the bling on the sides that read: “Diro”. I think someone forgot to do a spell check.)

Here’s the part I loved. Swan dive into the hotel pool and swim up to the pool bar to get stuck into happy hour. Enjoy your cocktail or three while splashing about on a li-lo or chatting with other holiday makers. (Check out the picture, that’s the place we stayed!)

When the dinner hour tolls, or if you’re just plain hungry, it’s out of the pool, a quick towel dry, don the crumpled singlet and shorts that have been sitting by the pool all day, then make your way barefoot to the restaurant. In Bali, they don’t care that your wet hair is dripping down your back or that the most make-up you’re wearing is a drunken smile.

They just want you to have a good time.

I caught the Bali version of White Knuckle Transport a few times. This involves sitting pillion on a 50cc motorbike sans helmet, hanging on for dear life, and dodging the other two million bikes, all intent on getting people and their purchases back to their hotels.

Whizzing down those narrow alleys puts the skills of F1 drivers to shame. These nationals know their bikes, know their roads, and know how to get you there. Cepat, cepat.

I visited the memorial, and stood at the sites of the two bombings. It is impossible not to feel the invisible horror of that night, and bow your head just for a moment and pray it never happens again.

The shopping was a hoot. I would guess that many of you reading this have made the trek down the filthy streets and snapped up bargains. I was traveling with someone who was a Bali regular so to watch him haggle was pure genius.

But just to refresh your memory, it goes like this:

Me: “How much for this handbag?”

Him: “Oh, that velly ‘spensive, that leather, but for you, ahh, I say 700.” (rupiah) This is about $80.

Me: (adopt look of offense and shake head) “Ahh, too much, too much.”

Him: “I have to feed my family, you no pay this price, I no feed my family.”

Me: “You have plenty of food for your family, I only pay 300.”

Him: (in mock offence posture) “You rob me, I no make any money if you buy that price.”

Me: “It is a fake piece of crap that will probably break before I get to Denpassar airport, it’s not worth any more than 300.”

Him: (again mock shock) “This is best stuff you buy, it genuine leather, here me hold lighter to material to show you no burn.” I am serious, this really happened, he tried to burn my bag.

Me: “ok, 400.”

Him: “600.”

Me: “No, no, no, too much, I’m going now.” And proceed to walk out of the shop and down the street. He chases me.

Him: “Mrs, Mrs, Mrs, wait! Ok, it hurt me but you have for 400.”

And so it goes on.

I amassed 23 sunglasses, two handbags, linen, t-shirts, singlets, scarves, dvds, necklaces, bangles, shoes, hair ornaments, knick-knacks, tops, dresses and a hand woven hat. Two of the sunglasses broke before the end of the day. The rest are doing well.

And I can’t wait to go again. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if I bumped into Javier Bardem while I was there!

** was using colloquial lingo regarding rupiah value, so where I say “700” the true value is “700,000”, however the point of my story was to be authentic and use dialogue of the locals, sorry if I have confused some readers… So 700,000 rupiah is about AUD80. 

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