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.


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?”


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.


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.