Gardens were us

Recently, a friend wrote on Facebook about her beloved partner, whom she’d lost to leukemia: “It’s fun remembering Caroline now. Not torture.”

Next Saturday will be the first anniversary of Rosalind’s death. Yet, while it is becoming fun to remember, I’m still tortured by images of her on that last quiet afternoon, curled into me, forehead to forehead, in her room at St Vincent’s. On her wall was an A4 print of a photo of the poppies I’d brought her when she was first admitted. To jolly-up the room once the poppies finished, I’d attached the orange ribbon the flowers had been wrapped with to the photo with sticky tape, creating a weird 3D trompe l’oeil. Occasionally we’d laugh at the madness of it, but she refused to let me take it down, even when it became a little too weird combined with the hallucinogenic effect of her medications.

poppies

Flowers are a trigger: the luminous wall of star jasmine that fills our house with scent conjures her posing against it in the first of her mad (but highly feted) Melbourne Cup hats; tough green tendrils of it winding through the railings outside her hospital window; the scent of gardenias in a plastic cup by her bed. From their first flush, I’d take her in a couple of blooms each day. Now I’m picking them for myself and burying my face in their velvety sweetness. It seems slightly less crazy than kissing goodnight the smooth knotted wood of her walking stick still hanging in my wardrobe.

mums-melbourne-cup-titfer-001

Gardens bonded us: “Mass-plant in odd numbers – threes, fives, sevens,” she’d intone, bee-lining for the flowering annuals and irritating the crap out of me on our garden-centre sorties. Now, she’s part of ours, her ashes scattered in a new bed where a giant she-oak once stood (another loss grieved), and in a vintage jardinière in my courtyard. The plant in the jardinière is one of hers, as spiky as she was, which I rescued from her flat. It’s fringed by silvery succulents, of which she was extremely fond. The olive-green of the pot wouldn’t have been much to her liking. Still, she’d have liked that it stands in pride of place, and that I can see it from my kitchen window.

jardiniere

So, one year on, in a characteristically inaccurate rendition of two Jewish traditions – a hybrid stone setting and unveiling – a few of us will gather in the courtyard. Each of us will place a shell – some of which I collected for her on my travels – in the jardinière. We’ll toast Rosalind with French champagne and feast on barbecued lamb, two of her favourite things. Then, in a couple of weeks’ time, the electric-blue spears of salvia will usurp the gardenias, and I’ll get back to weeding and feeding, and maybe even writing about something other than her. Thanks for bearing with me until then.

 

Get a life or something

Flowers for mumToday would have been Rosalind’s 83rd birthday, one that we might have celebrated with coffee and a shared slice of cake at the third-rate cafe by the tennis courts in Rushcutters Bay park. She’d have sat in a spot where the sun eased the bite of the harbour breeze, her father’s walking stick – sawn off to a more manageable length by my husband a few years back, then sanded smooth and oiled regularly by her – hooked over the back of a spare chair, her handbag on her lap, because you could never be too careful. We’d have watched the tennis players – some “lovely”, some “oh for god’s sake” – and her wispy grey curls would have shimmered like tinsel in the sunlight. Lucy the lab would have been at her side, chin resting on her leg, doleful green eyes pinned on that handbag, knowing Mum would have brought along a treat for while we were having ours. It would have been a “good day” – as modest as a day could possibly be – and ending with a jaunty salute of that walking stick as she walked down her driveway, back stiff, long, thin legs lost in her too-baggy trousers, not looking back.

“Don’t you dare toot the horn as you go,” she might have snapped before getting out of the car, for fear of her fellow inmates at the “village of the damned” complaining. “Not that they can hear anything – deaf as posts.”

She would have disappeared from my rear view mirror, and I’d have driven back up the drive, teary and guilty at leaving her alone, again.

There would have been an email by the time I got home – “Thanks for today. You looked well/tired/very smart/slimmer/much better than last time. Remember to make that hair appointment. Enjoy your evening. What’s for din-nah?” She’d have already eaten hers – a half cup of chicken noodle soup, perhaps, or a few spoonfuls of plain yoghurt.

So, while the world mourns the loss of David and Alan and Victoria and Prince – of so many brilliant strangers – forgive me if I really don’t give much of a shit. Because I still can’t shake off this far, far greater loss.

Which is why I’ve not been able to write anything on this blog since she died, because mostly I wrote for her, and often about her, and now she’s not here to be the first (and frequently only) person to comment, it’s kind of hard to get motivated.

“Oh, get a life,” she would have snorted.

And I will, eventually, but it may take a while. See you soon-ish.

A eulogy of sorts

Two and a half years ago, I wrote a piece on this blog, ‘We Need to Talk About Rosalind‘, to celebrate the 80th birthday of my mother (aka Mrs F, Rozinoz and, latterly, Rozinozinhoz). It was something of a badge of honour for her that she’d reached that milestone; few in her family had made it to their 70s, and her older sisters, Pat and Valerie, had both died too young.

Well, now I need to talk about Rosalind one last time (though who am I kidding – I’ll  never stop talking about her), because, while she insisted on describing herself as “vain, proud and deeply shallow”, she was anything but. Well, maybe she was those, too – but she was also an artist, a cellist, a tennis champion, a company director, a prolific writer, a relentless communicator, and originator of FOMO – “I wouldn’t want to miss anything” forever her mantra. And she never missed a trick, as all who knew her will attest.

Assorted photographs

The box of her mementos is a distillation of her: photographs meticulously dated on the back (with the occasional barbed comment); fragments of letters and annotations “Never forget you’re unique – just like everyone else”, a quote attributed to a beloved fellow cynic in the UK; a hand-painted Christmas card she’d made for her parents, Barney and Esme; music exam certificates and sketches. Sifting through them, I can smell her – not any particular perfume; just the scent of the Rosalind I remember as a child and will forever miss as an adult.

So, I said much of what I wanted to say about her back then (and you can click on the link above or here if you want to delve deeper) – but I’m also deeply shallow enough to plagiarise myself a little here, happy in the knowledge that I had the chance to say it to her while she was still alive and that, in her own, uniquely Rosalind way, she was happy, too.

Rosalind Ann Feldman, nee Parker, died – held oh-so-tightly in my arms – on Thursday 3rd December, 2015, at St Vincent’s Sacred Heart Hospice in Darlinghurst, after a “bloody, bloody, bloody” five-year illness. She will be missed by many – her two daughters, her nieces, faraway relatives and friends, neighbours and carers.

She was a rapier wit and wily wordsmith, a consummate piss-taker, a jaded TV and film reviewer, a wicked mimic, a cryptic crossworder and stalwart friend. She was her daughters’ most fearsome critic and fiercest defender. She was my hair-monitor, my travel companion, my coffee mate, my eye-catcher in awkward social situations, my blog censor, my eagle-eyed proofreader and my clothes-shopping monitor.

I wrote back then that I wished we could grow old and cranky together. I still wish, wish, wish we could have, because nothing will be the same without her.

Rest in peace, Rosalind, knowing that we’ll be the ones missing out from now on.

27 April 1933 – 3 December 2015

One-dress wonder, Frocktober ’15

The only way is up

The only way is up

Meanwhile, because so many of my constant and caring friends, colleagues and acquaintances have been asking with touching regularity, “How’s your mum doing?” and because I’m sick of hearing myself blathering on about it, I thought I’d get it over with in one fell swoop.

Plenty have written raw and beautiful and compelling accounts of the process and progress of illness and death – read Donna Reeves’ and Caroline Roessler’s blog Those Blasted Cells for one.

Not me. I’m going to say this now and get it over with (sorry Mum – it’s not your fault, it’s the cancer’s). These past few months have been taking a heavy toll on us and, while many recommend that you should write what you know, what she and I are knowing right now, you wouldn’t want a bar of.

Suffice it to say, Rosalind is not going so well. While she still has the heart of a lioness and the wit of Dottie Parker, her pyjamas are now those of a much, much larger person.

Staring into the hollowed cheeks of mortality at the palliative care unit every day for the past 11 weeks has only served to drive me deeper into the dimpled arms of fantasy – occasionally pornographic (surprise, surprise), but mostly just wearisome and sentimental. In bed, I write turgid eulogies in my head, crying like they’re Sorbent ads, or plan what I’ll plant with Mum’s ashes and where I’ll put the pot.

Rosalind doesn’t want to be scattered into the sea at Bronte, like our friend’s mum, Dawnie, was recently. “Too wet and cold,” she shudders, as though we lived in Blackpool. When I ask where she’s felt most happy and comfortable in her seven years in Australia, she says, “Your place.” Strange, considering that the Silver Fox and I live in a house my friend Robert long ago dubbed Castle Stern.

So that’s that, then – a flowering shrub in the back yard it will be. Or a mother-in-law’s tongue, Rosalind quips, just to put the wind up the Silver Fox.

On the way back to the hospital after her brief day pass at Castle Stern, we drive past a line of stretch-limos parked outside a stretch-Tuscan-inspired mansion. “Forget your house,” she says. “I want my wake to be in one of those. You can perch my ashes on the back seat.” The following week, as we wait at the lights after another Saturday-afternoon reprieve, another stretch-limo sails past. “It’s an omen,” she says, only half joking.

In fact, what is really going through her mind these days I have no idea, now the morphine is playing whatever an 82-year-old’s version of Tame Impala is through her consciousness. She seems remarkably relaxed about things, mostly.

I could do with some of that gear.

To infinity and beyond

To infinity and beyond

But I self-medicate in other ways, occasionally in the bedroom – with or without wine. This newly minted room provides me with all the psychedelia I could possibly require, courtesy the Silver Fox’s penchant for straight and shiny things. Curious, that a man with so little personal vanity (apart from a justified pride in his work) should have such a healthy relationship with mirrored surfaces. But maybe that’s the point. Those mirrors will be the death of me, though, I’ll wager.

Meanwhile, back at Sacred Heart in Darlinghurst, there is a distinct lack of shininess anywhere, apart from Rosalind’s wan, seemingly pre-chewed menu, which glows in the dark, so pallid and unappetising is it – the George Brandis of nourishment. It’s fortunate that cancer takes away your appetite – because heaven help Rosalind if she were actually hungry. I, on the other hand, am eating for both of us (my tried and tested method of adding physical ballast to an increasingly flimsy spirit) – often courtesy of the Dinner Ladies, whose food resembles nothing I ever ate at school that their namesakes dished out. It is very, very good, if not a little pricey.

But money no longer seems to matter that much – or my cholesterol levels. Because in this weird parallel universe I inhabit alongside my mother’s, I, too, am slowly relinquishing control. Ready meals and house cleaners – as necessary to my survival right now as four-hourly morphine hits, iced water and Walkers shortbreads are to hers.

After just two weeks, the highly excitable and ruthlessly efficient Terry and Fancy have insinuated themselves into my domestic routine, taken the Labrador to their hearts (incredulously at first) and afforded me the luxury of returning from the coalface or the hospital on a Friday evening to fur-free floors and the faint scent of orange oil. I’ve never been a fan of someone else cleaning up after me – be it at home or in a hotel room. It’s always seemed lazy and indulgent, and just a little feudal. But what the hell, we live in 2015 Australia, where lazy, indulgent feudalism is the default position – and Terry and Fancy seem happy enough with the arrangement. I imagine they’re earning more than me at the moment anyway.

Which brings me, in no way suavely or seamlessly, to the matter of this year’s month-long Frocktober donation-fest, which starts today, and for which I’ve humiliated myself with some financial success for the past two years, the first by having to drum up drag to be photographed in every day; the second, and only marginally more painful, by dragging out old family photos and taking you all through a walk down my gated memory lane.

LBD - 31 ways

LBD – 31 ways

This year, I’m making it easy on myself by pledging to wear the same dress for the whole month with various accoutrements and in various venues. It is old, cheap and black. The idea of relinquishing responsibility for what to wear for a few weeks is looking pretty good right now. If nothing else, it means I’ll have time to watch The Bachelorette.

So this is how I’m aiming to raise money for Ovarian Cancer Research for the next month. If you approve, and care to follow my Instagram and or Facebook blatherings, I’d be beholden to you if you throw in a coin or two in the coffers, to help raise awareness and funding for a cause a little too close to my aching heart for comfort.

Bless your cotton socks in anticipation, from me and my beautiful Rosalind.

Own it like you mean it

I was having dinner with a couple of friends the other night. One – the proudly dismissive father of a similarly wilful, creative, although rather more beautiful, late-teens daughter –was shrugging about her massive (8000-plus) following on Instagram, achieved “apparently,” he sighed, eyes rolling pubescently heavenwards, by wearing as little clothing as possible within the bounds of porn’s thin blue line.

I immediately whipped out my phone and took a look, of course. I mean, eight-f**king-thousand-plus Instagram followers – why wouldn’t you?

I have 217. I am doing something wrong, although I’m guessing not getting undressed is probably not it.

Indeed, only that day, I had posted my own rather less revealing little Instagram/Facebook jewel. A candid shot of the pair of mismatched boots I’d absently zipped on that morning in my usual unseemly dash to work. One suede, one leather. Both black. Both, mercifully, the same heel height.

Just a normal Thursday at the office.

Just a normal Thursday at the office.

I had only noticed at midday.

And no one else had noticed either.

Great.

I blame this on the Silver Fox (as I do with most things, unless I’m blaming my mother or Tony Abbott). He is on the brink of the final denouement of an 18-year aspiration – a habitable bedroom. And he has, as he never fails to do, surpassed himself and everyone else anywhere in the known universe with this latest Beautification of the Mean Streets of Botany. When he – finally, finally – screws on that last drawer handle, I will show you pictures to prove it. As my utterly unblameworthy mother said the other day, somewhat wistfully, “Please god it happens in my lifetime – in both our lifetimes…”

He may be slow, the Silver Fox, but he is the Gatekeeper of All Storage. I now have floor-to-ceiling shoe drawers on my side of our spectacular, bird’s-eye maple wardrobe, and a two-storey hanging rail. I gently pull on a lever and the top rail swings down towards me like a lover (or something). It’s my favourite gadget in the whole house – the action is so damn sweet. My boots, on the other hand, are in the lowest, deepest of the drawers. All I have to do is dip in and pull ’em out without even looking. But, judging by last Thursday’s dressing debacle, it seems I have lost my sense of touch along with the commonplace instinct of checking oneself in a mirror before leaving the house.

The thing is, though, I reckon I’ve had more comments and likes on Instagram and Facebook with those mismatched boots than pretty much anything I’ve ever posted. (Except, perhaps the picture of my whole family dressed up in Dutch national costume. No surprises there.) I think I’m on to something.

Among the commentary were the appealing, albeit misguided, suggestions of “an accidental hipster in da house”, “an indication of your versatility”, “I’ve always said that if you find comfortable footwear, you should buy two pairs – you’ve achieved that and saved money” and, most poignant, “Did you just own it like you meant it?”

Hardly.

But it did get me to thinking about how many shoes I own with which I could make the same um, statement, and – obvs – get a shitload more followers.

First up (and heading anti-clockwise), two pairs of NZ handmade Minnie Cooper ‘Dorothys’ (my nickname, as in, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”) in scarlet and brown faux lizard, bought on different trips to Wellington and Auckland about 10 years ago.

Two pairs of Ecco flats in black and brown, bought earlier this year on holiday in Noosa. I love them, although their relaxed, timeless chic was somewhat diminished for me by the hip young things in my office exclaiming, “They’re so cool. Our mothers wear these!” I may be old enough to be their mother, but I made a decision many decades ago not to be, and am still fine with that, even if it means I won’t have the pleasure in my dotage of watching my offspring fighting to the death over my estate.

Two pairs of sandals in black and a rather unpleasantly lairy red, bought this past summer – and for which I retain a certain ambivalence (there’s something a bit mumsy about them, but not in a good, timelessly chic Ecco way).

Two pairs of loafers – one in brick-red (no, I have no idea what I was thinking, either) – and one in white, which I’ve worn twice (and only indoors), because I just can’t shake the image of Queensland mining magnates on a Gold Coast holiday whenever I look down.

Damn you, Chicago.

Damn you, Chicago.

And finally these battered old Campers: the reason I fell in love with them in the first place is that they’re cunningly designed to look like you’re wearing mismatched shoes. I bought them in Chicago in 2010 on a stinking-hot day and wore them straight out of the shop. Whenever I think of that splendid city, my heels bleed like stigmata.

So, I have decided to tilt at the Instagram popularity windmill from another angle, not by flashing a headless, drum-taut abdomen and softly curved under-breasts (an impossibility, even were I blessed with the gift of reincarnation), but by baring my soles.

I expect to hit the 220-mark by tomorrow.

Meat Free Part Three

there's nothing here for you, Lucy. Sorry.

There’s nothing for you here, Lucy. Sorry.

Meat Free Week is upon us again − and as usual, it’s taken me until the evening before this annual fundraising event launches to get my act together and commit myself. Thankfully, I live near a bloody amazing deli that is open seven days − MFC Supermarket, on Gardeners Road, Rosebery − which not only has a section filled with vats of different olives and other oily wonders, but all manner of curious convenience foods for slackers like me who spend more time faffing around on their smartphones or watching Dates on BBC First than being all artisanal and cultivating sourdough-frigging-starter. So for the next seven days, I’ll be racing home from work (not an easy feat when you live on Sydney’s slowest and least reliable bus route) to whip up something inventive and delicious from ingredients that, as far as I can ascertain, have never felt the pain, terror or depression of being ‘farmed’ in a cage smaller than those cookbooks above.

For a week at least, we can all live safe and happy in the knowledge that the only animal suffering in my household will be Lucy the chocolate lab, because no crumbs of flesh, whether beast, fish or fowl, will be dropping to the kitchen floor for her to hoover up.

This year, the challenge has been made a “little more interesting”, as they might say on MasterChef Pt 12 With a Vengeance or I’m a Nobody, Get Me Out of Here, when things have got so dull that even the contestants’ relatives aren’t watching, because Meat Free Week has gone global, or at least to the United Kingdom. Which means my oldest friend, Amanda, who lives in Bath, has signed up for the first time − and she can cook. Really cook, goddammit. She even told me last night that she just so happens to have vegetarian involtini ready to go in her freezer. I’m feeling quite faint already. I only have little cheese and spinach pies from the MFC freezer section in my freezer. And some broad beans.

Not that I’m competitive or anything (much) − but it is a matter of parochial pride that Australia, founder of this worthy initiative, should lead the field in both food fabulousness and money-raising ability.

So, I need your help, gentle readers, to keep my spirits up and the charitable coffers overflowing. I’ll be posting a daily pic of what I’ve cooked and/or something pertaining to meat-free matters over the course of the coming week on Instagram and Facebook, and you can show your appreciation (and the colour of your money) through my official fundraising page.

And thank you – on behalf of the animals – except Lucy.

 

Abandon hope, all ye who enter there

Save money, grow herbs, cook at home

Save money, save face, grow herbs, cook at home

It’s been a herby kind of month or so (and I’m not using a euphemism here – mostly). It just seems that everywhere I’ve turned, and whatever I’ve cooked, my old mate basil has been at my side. Except as pesto. I can’t bring myself to go the pesto yet – it feels like a betrayal putting those magnificent plants out of their misery too soon. Like farewelling an arthritic old kelpie after a life of toil, only with a Breville, pine nuts, olive oil and a shitload of parmesan.

Talking of euphemisms (and a life of toil), I was tossed a beauty a few days ago. Friends, I’ve been informed by email that I’ve been ‘rotated off’ an assignment this year – and I’m using the latter euphemism advisedly, as I’d like any future ‘assignments’ to continue to be as forthcoming as my herbs have been this summer.

After I’d replaced my Tena Lady, I threw this phrase over to a few smart folk I know to find out if they’d ever come across it and, once they’d stopped howling with laughter and towelled themselves dry, they all said they’d never heard of it. Not even my most corporately cluey wordsmith friends. Damn you, MasterChef, and all those overbaked cheffy terms – ‘cooked off’, ‘fried off’, ‘sweated off’ – that you’ve lumbered us with.

‘Off’. Who knew that a tiny adverb would gain such traction in the world of bollocks-speak.

I do quite like this euph, though. Quite apart from its comedic value, it’s spare and elegant, with an industrial edge. Like a Surry Hills pop-up. Would that I could have replied with similarly corporate brio, but I can’t think of anything better than ‘go forth and multiply’ which is a tad too biblical/Peter Costello/Joe Hockey for me.

I hope to be dining out on this little morsel for some months to come.

And talking of little morsels (I fear these segues will be my downfall yet), sadly, this gem came too late for my friend Sophie’s and my Celebratory Pre-Christmas Lunch – a tradition that stretches way back to December 2013. This year we chose north Bondi, though it’s hard to shake the feeling that north Bondi wouldn’t choose us for quids.

The obergruppenführer at the other end of the phone had insisted there were only two booking options – midday or 2pm. Okay – midday then. We would take our cossies, have an early lunch, get caught in a rip down the south end, be rescued by lifeguards and still have time for a Gelato Messina yoghurt and caramel cone. A perfect Bondi day.

Hungry, happy and ‘hooray – on holidays!’, I arrived at 11.58am and approached the bar. This, I was told IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS by the cheerless git in a checked shirt, is just not what you do at a restaurant that has already MADE IT PERFECTLY CLEAR that it expects you there at MIDDAY and NO SOONER. Chastened, I genuflected and shuffled out backwards to await his command. As I knelt, counting grains of sand, I pondered the curious ways of restaurants in Sydney…

Hospitality. You know, you invite some friends over and spend a few hours shopping and cooking stuff, and you make sure everyone has plenty of everything – seconds even; sometimes even doggy bags. Then you reapply your deodorant and pick the duck fat out of your eyebrows and greet everyone at the door with real pleasure, because you invited them, and you like having them around and being around them. And everyone gets drunk – or not – and eats too much and you get a real kick out of them enjoying what you’ve made. Then everyone goes home.

Hospitality. You know, you grudgingly allow some people to squeeze into a half-empty restaurant at a window table for two positioned right in the middle of a pillar that blocks a great view of the beach, and spend a few hours shopping and cooking stuff for a menu whose ‘plates for sharing’ come in odd-numbered portions. Then you reapply your attitude and greet everyone at the door with barely concealed contempt, because you know you need them so you can pay for your next tattoo, but you just want to be out the back tending to your heirloom pickles. So everyone gets drunk – or not – and doesn’t get to eat enough, because those shared plates have been plated-up by a horticulturalist in group-plantings of three and five. And you’re too busy chatting up a newsreader and some skinny bint Who Quit Swallowing for Life to have a clue whether anyone else is enjoying anything. Then everyone goes home.

BUT NOT BEFORE THEY’VE PAID YOU.

Spag bol - as Australian as Australia Day

Spag bol – as Australian as Australia Day

Which is why, on a satisfyingly cold, rainy and dismal Australia Day, I enjoyed a bit of contemplative herb-fuelled stirring (still not a euphemism – mostly), with the help of some lustrous bay leaves from a plant that I hope will outlive me. It seemed far more fitting than thinking of something wittier to say than anyone else on the planet about Mr Abbott’s greatest gift so far to our satirical landscape, or hooning around in a Nissan Xenophobia with plastic flags stuck out the front windows.

The dish of the day? Naturally, the Number 1 most popular, true-blue, cooked-off, plated-up meal in this wide brown land (according to those in the know, namely marketing professionals and content strategists) – a dinky-di spag bol. Enough for six – no split bills.

It’s a wonderful life, ladies

Listing to the right

’Twas the night before the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even the Silver Fox. He’d run his race too early, the night before the night before the night before, and was now lying supine – defenceless as a welfare recipient under the gimlet gaze of Scott Morrison – on the ergonomically mystifying King Furniture rocker.

Outside, the shed fridge was gently humming, an ex-turkey at rest in its frigid embrace, cushioned on layers of paper towel. Not just any turkey, mind – a turkey that had, for its short but idyllic life, been afforded the most caring of care before shuffling off this mortal coil through sheer happiness, thanks to the ministering angels at Feather and Bone.

The mistress of the house, Keeper of the Double-Sided Sticky Tape and Purveyor of Fine Layers of Dust, beamed as she surveyed her bedecked halls. From the east wing to the west, all was in good order. She had completed her gift-wrapping, sustaining only minor injuries, and the gaily beribboned parcels were piled high around the grand, 800mm Flower Power Living Christmas Tree.

She gently ran her finger along the spines of the cookery books and magazines gathered on the kitchen bench, smiling in anticipation at the sifting and stirring, grinding and mixing, whipping and smearing that lay ahead.

But then her thoughts quickly turned back to cooking and the colour drained from her face. It was the night before the night before Christmas and there was peril afoot. The Knights and Dames of the Kitchen Table were a treacherous and divisive rabble, from M’lady Maggie Beer of the Verjuice, with her damnable double oven bags and resting the bird breast-side down for up to one hour, to Monseigneur Gary Rhodes, Lord of Step-By-Step Cooking, and his delving inside to locate the wishbone and cutting it out with a small sharp knife, the better to facilitate carving.

She must act quickly, lest the morrow’s endeavours overwhelm her. Before she knew it, it would be the night before Christmas and the calm she’d worked so steadfastly to achieve over the past 10 days would be lost. She would once again be transformed into My Lady of the Last Minute and surely would not go to the ball.

She would return again to the oracle Stephanie Alexander, whose sagacity in the dark arts of large trussed birds and marshmallowy pavlova was hailed in all four corners of this flat, square earth, even as far as Empress Nigella’s Land of the Midnight Snack. Soothed by this thought, she sprayed her chastity belt with a little more WD40, pinched her ashen cheeks to their former rosiness and took up her smoothing iron once more. She must make haste with her liege’s doublet and hose before he awoke, then check on the nominations for the Queen’s New Year Honours list. Perhaps this time…

 

2014 Frocktober round-up

I know many of my blog-readers have lives, which means they don’t spend their waking hours terrorised by the multi-headed, fire-spewing beast that is Social Meejah, so I thought it might be opportune to re-post here the images and words I published each day through October in one fell swoop. And while I hope it makes for entertaining reading, it might also have the added benefit of coaxing more of you to dig deep and add to my Frocktober sponsorship tally here, if only out of sympathy for the depths I’ve stooped to maintain people’s interest in my month-long quest.

So, starting from Day 2, as you’ve already had the pleasure of Day 1 in my previous post – please come with me on a non-chronological journey through the windmills of my wardrobe. And for those of you who have already been subjected to these images on Instagram and Facebook, it might be time for you to avert your eyes.

Day 2 Singapore, November 1983, en route back to London after a year of living dangerously and fabulously in Sydney, Darwin, Broome and Perth – but mostly Sydney for a year’s working holiday. Raffles hotel is the backdrop here – we couldn’t afford to stay there, but had a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar anyway. The outfit was designed by Perth friends Annie, Gem and Brett, who had an indie label called XX. The hair, well, it was the 1980s. Enough said…

 

Day 3 Let’s go back more than half a century – sigh… My favourite form of attire from about the age of seven (which is about how old I am here) until, well, now really – but only in the privacy of my own home… Hair obsessives who have still not got over the last photo, please note the straight tresses, due in no small part to my mother’s vigorous brushing regimen (and a snug-fitting riding hat). It was brown velvet as I recall. Tally ho!

 

 

 

Day 4 Heading to a wedding (not ours, I hasten to add). It was 1976 and I was 20 years old, and wearing a cream crepe culotte ensemble, doubtless from my father’s shop, Belle, in Queensway, Bayswater (of which you’ll see more later in this post). The bold accessory in the grey top hat to my left was the best man – but not for me it turned out, much to my eternal relief…

 

 

 

Day 5 Here’s a sun-kissed number from 1984, on a package holiday in Tunisia I went on with one of my oldest friends, Charlotte, who had, and still has, big hair non pareil. But, my friends, the sky-high hair here is not the limit – there’s bigger hair to come, so stay tuned.

 

 

 

Day 6 Enough of the hair, already, although in 1968 or thereabouts when this was taken, I could have done with a bit more. The only girl in class with a short cut – not a happy time for an insecure tween. Having more or less grown out of drawing horses, I had turned to ‘fashion illustration’, including the one here, for an ad my father put in the local rag to tout his maison du couture in London. I’m guessing my inspiration came from the cartoon romance comics of the day, including Romeo and Jackie.

Day 7 One week down in my Frocktober quest, so it must be time to hit the drag. It’s 1983, and I’m ready for my first Sydney Mardi Gras. The make-up and hat are by my sadly departed first Australian friend, Danny Smylie (aka Beautiful Jenny), a window dresser and part-time drag queen who took me under his wing when I was flown out to Sydney from London in 1980 for two weeks to repaint the faces of the mannequins at Grace Bros in Chatswood (as the store was known then). At the Mardi Gras party, I was swept onto the dance floor by a gallant gent who whispered into my ear, “Love your drag, sweetie.” I still wonder whether he realised I was a girl. Story of my life, actually…

Day 8 You’ve seen my 1983 Mardi Gras debut; now see my finale, in 2000. Rather more restrained on the drag front, though I think the pink suede boots should get brownie points, n’est ce pas? Pictured with me here are Andrew (foreground), whom I’ve known since the big-hair days of the mid-80s in Perth, and, making ready for a hasty departure at the front door, François, another Perth-vintage pal. Both of them were founding members with me and another beloved Perth boy, Robert, of The Miserable Club – all boyfriendless together, comforting ourselves regularly with Flintstone-sized schnitzels at Una’s restaurant in Kings Cross and laughing more than I’ve ever laughed since. One of my rules of thumb of friendship is invariably having more fun getting ready together than being at whatever event we are getting ready for. And here I rest my case…

Day 9 What goes around comes around – corduroy hot pants with bib and braces, anyone? It’s 1971 and we thought we were so hot right then, even before so hot right now was a thing. Most of our time was spent holed up in my or my friend, Amanda’s, bedroom, brandishing hairdryers, Carmen heated rollers and Mary Quant three-toned eyeshadow sets. Here we are, in a brief interlude from preening – Manda, a tortured-haired me and my cutie-pie little sister, Belinda. Manda had a boyfriend who was a hairdresser, pretty much the coolest kind of boyfriend you could have in 1971. They were the Brangelina of the Stonegrove Jewish Youth Club. I just played ping pong.

Day 10 So I’m cheating a little here, but cars have always been my favourite accessory, and this will always be my favouritest of all – a 1961 Holden FB ute, with scarlet bench seat and original three-on-the-tree gear shift. I would drive to work with Cake blasting out of TripleJ, and still can’t listen to ‘The Distance’ without it conjuring up this beast’s rolling gait, and me and my dear friend and (then) workmate, Leah belting out, “He’s going the distance, he’s going for… speeeed!” as we headed home from the city up Oxford Street, our elbows hitched over the window ledges like proper tradies. Annie (blue cattle dog) and Judy (Paddy’s Market mutt) in the back completed the ensemble out of office hours. The outfit here is of the suitably Aussie-serviceable vernacular – swimmers and shorts – but not Hard Yakka brand, I hasten to add. One has to draw the line somewhere.

Day 11 A Saturday-night special, and a brief respite from moi for a change. My grandma Esme (my mother’s mother), in 1920, aged 20, ready for her first fancy-dress dance. Nothing more to say – just sensational.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 12 Camp Ecstasy, 1989. Those of you who’ve been trudging through this month of fashiony fun with me so far will have already encountered Horsey Sal on Day 3, as well as XX label-clad Scarey Sal outside Raffles hotel on Day 2. Here, it all comes together in a slightly more louche get-up (that T-shirt must have been at least five years old – never let it be said that I don’t get plenty of wear out of my clothes, as those who know me will testify). A weekend spent camping at a friend’s property, with a whole bunch of 24-hour party people gathered to celebrate a 30th birthday. The name is probably self-explanatory – it was Woodstock, only a whole lot faster, with a soundtrack heavily tilted towards Soul II Soul, Inner City, De La Soul and New Order. The Silver Fox and I drove there in his 1970 maroon VF Valiant – no wonder I fell for him…

Day 13 Frou-frou Sal, circa 1959, in pink bridesmaid dress for my aunty Valerie’s (my mother’s sister) wedding. On the back of this photo, my mother has written in pencil: “Three guineas – from Nurseryland in Edgware. A bloody fortune!” Apparently this outrageously overpriced frock was then handed down to my sister, then family friends’ daughters, which is something of a relief, because in today’s money, that dress would be worth about a trillion dollars. As for the crazy patterned carpet – no wonder our childhood pets were always so neurotic…

 

 

Day 14 Circa 1980. Window-shopping on the Kings Road, Chelsea, after a day painting mannequins at Adel Rootstein. I was on my way out with friends from work (one of them, Cheryl, took this photo and sent it to me in solidarity for my fundraising efforts this year, bless her cotton socks). The hard-to-spot apple-green shirt was a hand me down from my then flatmate, Kaya, whose weight spookily dropped in direct proportion to the weight I gained while I lived with her. The black dinner jacket may have been from the Chelsea Antiques Market or Antiquarius. I think the bag was from The Great Gear Trading Company or perhaps Stop the Shop, and the skirt might have come from Wallis (still trading), whose head of merchandising at the time, Kevin Arpino, eventually took over the Rootstein business after Adel died. My friend, Jed, not pictured, but with us that evening, told me of a dream he had in which my ankles got thinner and thinner until my feet dropped off and I was left walking on little points. Not hard to imagine looking at this image. Those black suede shoes had scalloped edges, and I loved them, but that didn’t stop me looking for more. Plus ça change

Day 15 An English wedding, June 14 1996. Mine actually (and the Silver Fox’s, of course). Pictured here with my dynamo mother, who arranged the whole event in 10 days – from the day I popped the question, to a perfect midsummer afternoon reception in a lovely country pub called the Bedford Arms, in Buckinghamshire, with 40 friends and rellos. She, the SF, my girlfriend, Val and I went shopping in Hampstead for an outfit a couple of days before the big day, and this was the first one I tried on. It’s a Karen Millen number, before she apparently took hallucinogenic drugs and discovered hyper-bling. It was bling enough for me (and short enough for the Silver Fox). The shoes were from Hobbs, also in Hampstead, and I still have them, though they’re a little mould-stained from 18 years of cupboard life. The jacket was chucked out this year, also stained, and the dress a couple of years before that (no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fit into it and keep what dignity I still had). If you are wondering at the continued absence of the Silver Fox among these images, it’s because he prefers to eschew any interweb presence, and, after all this malarkey, I can’t say I blame him.

Day 16 This one brought the house down on Instagram – can’t imagine why… It’s 1971, and we’re on a family Easter holiday in Holland. I learnt from my mother after I originally posted this photo, that it was actually taken in Monnikendam, not Amsterdam, a town that’s the namesake of mum’s uncle Maurice, husband of her beloved aunty Marjorie, who lived way beyond her centenary. So here we all are without even the benefit of having visited one of those Dutch wacky-tobaccy cafes (although perhaps we should have, as Mum and I might have looked more relaxed and happy).

Day 17 More fancy dress – this time for the Silver Fox’s 40th birthday party in 1998, which he shared with a friend, who insisted on a ‘Renaissance and Sporting Heroes’ theme. She’s a history teacher and rugby union coach, so it kinda made sense at the time. Kinda… I painted a mural-sized rendition of Botticelli’s ‘Venus’, among other things, to decorate the room (you can just spot it behind me on the left), but ignored the dress code and hired this twinkly number just because I liked it (and because my sporting hero is Ginger Rogers). One wag asked me if I’d come as the Queen Mother. One was not amused…

Day 18 Proving that leopard print and brogues never go out of style. I posted this photo, taken sometime in the early 1960s, to pay tribute to my sister Belinda’s birthday and as a homage to elasticated waistbands.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 19 Well, I had to get this over with at some point. My first wedding, November 1983. The bride wore black (and a surfeit of netting), the groom wore a shiny, chat-show host jacket, and the reception was at the bandstand on Observatory Hill. Guests included my pal, Danny, as his alter-ego Beautiful Jenny, and a cast of mohawked crackpots from Sydney College of the Arts, where my husband was studying. We all ended up dancing on the stage at a Spanish restaurant/flamenco spot in Liverpool Street, while the marriage ended amicably about eight years later.

 

Day 20 Venice Lido, mid-1960s. Rocking the pink and the beribboned pigtails. So successfully, I might add, that I stole the heart of a dashing young (extremely young) waiter called Franco at the hotel where we were staying, the posh Quattro Fontane. It was the first time I’d had my bottom pinched and eternal love declared to me in a sexy accent (in fact, the only time for either, come to think of it). I wonder whatever happened to Franco…

Day 21 A carefree time – 1961 – the days of frilly knickers that matched one’s frocks. My mother was – and still is – a fiend for ‘matching’ and I still get the once-over every time we get together. The one powerful memory I have of this garden, in our first home in Edgware, Middlesex, is of picking tiny wild strawberries growing at the bottom of it. I’ve never tasted any as good since.

 

 

Day 22 Sometime in the 1960s. Me, my little sister and our family pooch, Petra, named hopefully after the smart and handsome dog on our fave kids’ TV show, Blue Peter, but sadly lacking in the looks department. This worked to our advantage when we entered a picture of Petra ‘grinning’ into a competition on Eamon Andrews’ ‘Today’ show on TV, for the Daftest Dog in Britain, in 1970. She was a finalist, so Mum had to go on the show with Petra. It may have been Mum’s then-Arian-blonde good looks and uber-fashion-forward herringbone maxi coat that clinched the deal with the judges (among them, actress Sheila Hancock), but our dear old pet-shop pooch won, and was presented with a bone bigger than she was, tied with a large red bow, a crown and a cheque for five pounds.

Mum made the local paper looking characteristically strained under the glare of publicity and photography. Petra never made it through that bone, but lived a full and happy life, nevertheless, out of the media spotlight. And I never did find my waist.

 

 

 

Day 23 This photo, dug up by my mother, is of Dad’s aforementioned boutique – the last and grooooooviest of the three he owned. He designed the interior – inverted-scalloped ceiling and all – as well as being a dab hand at window dressing, as you can see. Mum ran the lingerie section, and was one of the first to stock Gossard Wonderbras (of which she had a vast personal collection in various colours – with knickers dyed to match). I would drive at weekends with Dad to work as a ‘Saturday girl’, and listen to Kenny Everett on Capital Radio. Not sure when this was taken, probably the very early 1970s. My sister reckons the shop was still there a couple of years ago, in Queensway, Bayswater, with scalloped ceilings intact. Our father was nothing if not visionary…

Day 24 Circa 1980 – the mannequin painter. More photos courtesy of my former workmate, Cheryl, one of a bunch of creative, eccentric and exhilarating people I worked with at Adel Rootstein in Chelsea, from 1976 to 1981. Style notes, clockwise from top left: turquoise glitter sunglasses, frequently matched with a turquoise lurex tie and Annie Hall-esque shirt, jacket and pants (had a huge crush on Diane Keaton and Woody Allen); painting Joanna Lumley (or at least her facsimile) with oil paint (other mannequins of the time included Cher, Marie Helvin, Sayoko – probably the first Japanese model to make the big time – Pat Cleveland, whose daughter, Anna, is now also modelling, and Joan Collins – all sculpted from life); lunchtime picnic at Chelsea Green – white dungarees, worn in the misguided belief that they would camouflage my heft, but also quite the thing at the time; ‘Sally’s Other Apron!’, a calico smock (we all wore them in the studio) encrusted with paint that built up over time as we wiped our brushes while we worked, until those smocks stood up by themselves. That job was what eventually brought me to Sydney – and for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Day 25 Aged four, 1960. I’ve always loved getting frocked up – especially when there was a wand involved.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 26 Sutherlandshire, Scotland, summer (yup) of 1974. The first time I saw the Scottish highlands, I burst into tears – such vast, gaunt beauty was just too much for a nice Jewish suburban girl. I was 18 and travelling with my first proper partner (you may remember him in the top hat from Day 4) and our two friends, Val and Phil, in Mum’s borrowed Renault 6. Crammed to the gills it was, not just with us, but all our luggage and our combined body weight in chocolate bars and crisps, plus an inflatable dinghy and outboard motor strapped to the roof. The crofter’s cottage we rented, near the Kyle of Tongue, was the creepiest place I’ve ever stayed – so much so, that one room became completely off limits, due to said partner convincing us that the person in the portrait on the wall kept shifting position. It’s still one of the most heart-catching, life-changing places I’ve visited. And the Renault was never the same, either. Sorry Mum.

Day 27 Jeez Louise, what was it with me and dungarees? It’s 1980-ish, and I’m at my friends’ house with their beautiful rescue dog, Paddy (short for Padworth, which is where the rescue home was). I spent a lot of my time with Val and Phil (whom I’d ‘stolen’ from my ex-boyfriend and adopted as my own personal rescue home), travelling the countryside in the back seat of their car with the dog – both of us sniffing the hedgerows out the windows. Happy times.

 

Day 28 So, enough about me… You’ve seen my wedding outfits; now here are my grandmother’s and mother’s. At far left, Esme Nordon, my maternal grandmother, who married Bernard (Barney) Parker in 1925 – that’s him with her in the top photo. Below, my mother, Rosalind, who married my father, David, in 1954. She was 21, he was 32. How beautiful she looks here. My sister and I wore her wedding dress for dress-ups for years afterwards.

 

Day 29 Another example of a seeming penchant for channelling the late Queen Mother (although some commented on my original post that I looked more like Princess Di, perish the thought). It’s 1983, and beside me is Danny – seen here in his Beautiful Jenny persona (via Alexis from Dynasty). We were guests at another crackpot wedding in the city – the bride and groom serenaded by a woman in man-drag playing an accordion on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral. Danny was one of a handful of dear friends I lost to AIDS, and the world has never seemed quite as vivid without them.

Day 30 Following on from the above post – and bringing us almost back to where we started on Day 1 of this frocking marathon. It’s February 1983 and my friend, fellow traveller, soul brother and old soul, Jed, and I are heading down William Street into the city, armed with our mannequin portfolio, probably to an appointment at David Jones or Grace Bros to wrangle for work. Danny took this photo. I think the shirt-dress came from Sportsgirl, and I loved it. So did Danny – I have a photo of him somewhere with him wearing it. As for Jed, 10 years later, he went the way of Danny, another victim of the era, and of being the beautiful new boy in town. This photo just brims with all that potential of being strangers in a strange land, with everything ahead of us, and I’m so glad to have found it after all these years.

Day 31 Sarong, and thanks for all the dosh (with apologies to Douglas Adams). This is the last day’s worth of me regaling you with frockulicity, so I thought we should celebrate by not wearing a frock at all (so to speak). Style notes, clockwise from top left: 1996, on our Bali honeymoon; 1998, a weekend in Noosa to celebrate the Silver Fox’s 40th; 1998, a South Coast summer holiday (naturally – it’s raining), with my old cattle dog, Annie, in the background. And that’s all folks – for those of you who feel inspired to donate to OCRF, to fund the fight against ovarian cancer, just click on this link and it will take you to my page. Thanks again to everyone who’s supported me with kind words, laughter and, most importantly, donations to this cause. Until next year…

 

 

A month of frockdays

The time is ticking swiftly towards October, or Frocktober, as it is skittishly known. Tomorrow, and for the duration of this – so very, very long – month, I am committed to wearing a dress, or some such skirty thing, and to daily document this horror via social media, to raise funds for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation.

However, as I remarked last year, this seems a small price to pay for the possible benefits this pathetic struggle with my sartorial demons could bring to further the research into this awful disease. And I raised quite a decent wack last year, to your, um, credit. More than double my target, in fact. So thank you, again.

Most of you will already know I have a personal investment in this particular cause – I am, I admit, nothing if not selfish. My mother, Rosalind Feldman (that’s her above, in 1951, aged 17, wearing one of her sister’s dresses), was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in December 2010, but only after many months of having to endure symptoms that no one had picked up – mostly because ovarian cancer is so bloody hard to diagnose, that by the time it is, the cancer is already doing its evil voodoo that it does so well.

Since that terrifying and dismal day, the good, good folk at St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst, along with those at the Kinghorn Cancer Centre and Sacred Heart Hospice, have – with not a little help from Rosalind’s sheer bloody-mindedness and no help at all from my peripheral dithering – kept her ticking over for far longer than her straight-shooting oncologist, the magnificent Professor Eva Segelov, would have been prepared to wager. (Fittingly, Eva is something of a fashionista – particularly in the shoe department – and Ros and I always look forward to seeing what foxy little Italian numbers she’ll be wearing at our next appointment.)

So – how best to make you all part with your hard-earned? While I know some among you took pleasure in witnessing my daily posts on Instagram and Facebook last year, I thought I might mix it up a bit in 2014, just to keep things mildly more amusing for you, and altogether more humiliating (and hopefully lucrative) for me and my donation kitty. And, frankly, I haven’t bought that many new clothes to make my Frocktober posts interesting enough for you to cough up more money to see.

So, I will leave the daily glam shots to those who do them best – you can check out everyone’s daily updates at #frocktober and #ocrf on Instagram – and instead, occasionally throw in some unchronological photographic vignettes through the history of my wardrobe, according to my daily whim.

To start, I take you back to where it all began for me here in Sydney.

November 1982 and 26 years old. I was hot off the plane from London with my best friend Jed, via a week in Bali, for a year’s working holiday. I have no idea where any of the clothes I’m wearing came from, but when we got off the plane in Sydney, Jed and I were the only people in monochrome, that’s for sure.

If you’d like to donate, please hit this link and go for your life. And thanks, in anticipation, from the bottom of my sock drawer.