Autumn highlights part 1

How is it already nearly the middle of 2018! It is already the third day of Winter as I write this, a Sunday morning, and outside my window I see clear blue sky with an overlay of bare dark branches wearing a skirt of sparse golden leaves. They are losing their battle to cling on, like gold spangles hanging by a thread from the lace on a blue silk dress.

I feel like I haven’t really absorbed Autumn as much as I wanted to. Life is so busy and I feel like I skate over the surface of things. To quote my busy dad, “Life just goes, and goes and goes.” Like falling spangles.

So a little thankyou and farewell to Autumn, my absolute favourite season, especially in Canberra. The burning dry heat of summer becomes less intense, and even though March can still be very hot, you know relief is coming soon. There’s the anticipation of that first chill in the air and you notice the leaves are starting to turn.

Everything is easier and prettier in Autumn with it’s warm colour palette, transeasonal wardrobe cosy evenings and cool weather cooking.

I didn’t take as many Autumn walks as I wanted to, or as many photos, but here is what I did manage to capture…

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Dreaming of a husky like Harley

 

Saturday afternoon bike ride

 

The afternoon sun enhances the trees splendid red outfits even more

 

Leaf-covered wall and roof of a friend’s garage

 

Autumn really does know how to paint the town red in Canberra! Until next year, Autumn

 

Crockery, cake and Cartier: a very royal wedding weekend

 

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Well “the wedding” of last weekend is over, but the honeymoon certainly isn’t. Many I’ve spoken to still admit to being in a post-wedding glow, and admittedly, I’m having trouble letting go of the occasion this week.

I didn’t think I would get as enthusiastic as I did about the marriage of the sixth in line to the throne, but I do love a wedding, particularly a big royal one, and the match between Prince Harry and the former Ms Meghan Markle seems to be a particularly exciting one, what with royalty meeting Hollywood.

Harry is emblazoned in the collective consciousness (of those of us of a certain age), whose hearts broke watching him as 12-year-old-boy walking with head bowed, behind his mother’s coffin 21 years ago. I felt happy and grateful to see him walking today, again with his brother William, but now a man in uniform with a much different gait, on his way to marry the woman he loves.

I was excited when my sister, Senorita Margarita said she was coming to visit on “wedding weekend” and that she shared my enthusiasm to attend the wedding on telly. We texted in the days leading up to the big event; we swapped links to wedding recipes, party planning tips, and royal-watching blog posts.

We planned our own little wedding-watching party.  Spider Boy’s dad came over to hang out with him, because 10-year-old boys generally don’t appreciate weddings. Am I gender stereotyping? All right then, my 10-year-old (who is a boy) was just not into it.

Now on with the show…

Let’s first compare cake, outfits and décor at Windsor and in Canberra, in A tale of two celebrations!

1. Food

Windsor

Harry and Meghan’s cake: The news that the cake would break with the traditional fruit cake was exciting. People.com reports that the couple asked Claire Ptak of London-based bakery Violet Cakes to bake a cake that “incorporates the bright flavour of Spring.”

“The cake consists of deconstructed tiers of lemon sponge cake drizzled with elderflower syrup and topped with an Amalfi lemon curd. The entire cake is coated with a Swiss meringue buttercream also infused with elderflower, and is adorned with a mix of 150 fresh flowers, including peonies and roses. The texture is really lovely and the flavour is quintessentially Spring and British,” the baker said in a video released by Kensington Palace.

To me that description makes the cake sound like a work of art, and a gastronomic version of a walk through a lemon grove on a beautiful Spring day.

 

 

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A section of “the cake”

 

My living room in Canberra

Senorita Margarita’s and my cake: Well, it wasn’t a cake. More of a pav. Or a mess, or, as my friend Nadia texted, “pavlova scrunched up.” We planned a wedding version of Eton Mess we dubbed “Elderflower Mess (without the Elderflower)”

The Senorita did place a call to The Essential Ingredient in Canberra’s Kingston, but at $21.95 for 375ml for a syrup I’ve never tried and don’t know I’d like and may never use again, turns out that on my salary,  not so essential!

Champagne: I don’t know about Meghan and Harry’s but ours was German sparkling wine. “Let’s drink it in your Kate and William tea cups!” said my creative sister enthusiastically.

“No!” I exclaimed. I was uncomfortable with that idea. “Champagne goes in champagne glasses, tea cups are for tea” I asserted.

“I understand” said the Señorita sagely. “There’s a line. And I just crossed it.”

2. The Outfits

Windsor

Meghan Markle: I actually took a breath when I saw the divine Ms M step out of the car. The dress was designed by Clare Waight Keller and according to the @kensingtonroyal Instagram account, the design “epitomises a timeless minimal elegance referencing the codes of the iconic House of Givenchy.” To me it evoked the classic sophistication of  Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. Ms Markle ascended the steps of St George’s Chapel like an angel, her tiny duo of dark-suited page boys, twin Cupids to her Venus.

 

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Prince Harry: Hunky Officer and a Gentleman– type outfit

Assorted royals and celebrities: Colourful, structured pieces and statement headwear

My living room in Canberra

The Senorita: “I got out of my pyjamas!” Yes readers, it’s true, the Senorita swapped her jammies for a sophisticated black jean and black wool shawl ensemble, accessorised with a diamante tiara. It was Saturday night after all.

Alex:  “I didn’t get into my pyjamas!” Again, I made a Saturday night sacrifice and stayed in my street clothes for the occasion. A blue jean and navy jumper ensemble in case you’re wondering. Pyjamas would have to wait until Karl Stefanovic had turned off his mic (although wish I’d watched Channel 7 and that nice Melissa Doyle now). Oh and a paper tiara the Senorita made for me from the pages of Woman’s Day! Again, Saturday night!

Spider Boy: “What wedding? Batman pyjamas!”

 

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My viewing companion was a bit two-faced really…

 

 

3. The Decor

Windsor

Real Union Jack flags lining the streets, masses of white flowers and foliage, Harry and Meghan T-shirts

My place

A white candle shaped like a floral bouquet, bunting from Woman’s Day and New Idea, souvenir royal tea towel ($2 with New Idea), Harry and Meghan paper masks (thanks Woman’s Day), and royal crockery used for the first time, especially for the occasion.

 

 

The event itself

The Senorita and I had a hoot watching, from commenting on the arriving guests and their outfits, to the beautiful, uplifting ceremony itself.

We commented on Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. You may remember Bea with her  2011 “pretzel meets bow” number (AKA Medusa snakes hat) at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Well, I think the pendulum has swung straight to The Handmaids Tale in 2018. I thought Eugenie’s hat was evoking the spirit a 1960s air hostess. Yes, I said air hostess. Although the Senorita was down with her “Jackie Kennedy” vibe.

Our top 21 favourite moments of the wedding (in no particular order)

1. Harry and his brother William walking the long walk side by side to St George’s Chapel. I thought about how many walks those brothers have taken together.  I got a bit teary thinking about the boys and how they were at their mother Princess Diana’s funeral and now today – what a wonderful day.

2. The weekend weather in Windsor

3. Harry’s wedding beard

4. The first glimpse of Meghan and her mum Doria Ragland in the car

5. The look of contented composure on William’s face; the tilt of the head reminding us so much of Diana’s feminine energy as he sat beside Harry in church, a well of reassurance for his younger brother. The Senorita, who is very intuitive, observed “I think Diana’s energy was coming through William.” I agree with her. I have since read that a lip-reader reported that William said to Harry “You know what Mum used to say…” as they sat waiting for the ceremony to begin. Diana was there.

6.The first full view of the dress as Meghan stepped out of the car. Meghan’s dress was so simple, so elegant, so classic, a hint of décolletage but the right amount of coverage. I couldn’t fault it. The 1930s bandeau tiara that had belonged to Queen Mary, lent just the right amount of pizzaz, elevating her look from simply elegant to stunning.

7. The two page boys holding Meghan’s train as she glided up the stairs

8. The look on one delighted page boy’s face as Meghan entered the church (“That’ll come back to haunt him at his 21st” predicted the Senorita). Apparently his facial expression was in response to hearing a trumpet for the first time.

9. Meghan walking herself down the aisle (the first part), the first royal bride to do so. Meghan asked Prince Charles to greet her halfway, and then rather than him “giving her away”, she “stepped forward” to greet Harry.

10. When Harry mouthed “you look amazing” to his bride.

11. When Harry, a bit awkwardly, lifted Meghan’s veil during the ceremony.

12. The fact that there WAS a hair out of place – Meghan’s hair and makeup looked  natural and beautiful.

13. The emphatic way Harry said “I will”.

14. The emotions on Meghan’s mum’s face

15. When Harry stroked Meghan’s fingers with his thumb while listening to the sermon.

16. Meghan’s smile as she listened to Reverend Bishop Michael Curry.

17. The various facial expressions of assorted royals as they listened to Reverend Curry.

18. The rendition of Stand By Me, by The Kingdom Choir. And how about that beautiful steel grey hair and fabulous dusky rose outfit of choir leader Karen Gibson!

19. Doria, Charles and Camilla walking together behind the newlyweds as they left the church.

20. Meghan and Harry appearing in the flower-covered doorway, standing at the top of the steps, and then that kiss.

21. That for-real fairy-tale carriage ride through the streets of Windsor!

We all know life is not a fairy tale. But this beautiful royal wedding looked pretty darn close to one, if only for the day. The Senorita and I are so happy for them both (especially Harry).

After the wedding…

After wedding coverage had stopped on ALL stations (don’t worry, I checked) the movie License to Wed began on Channel 9 and to my horror, my sister uttered the words I just did not expect or want to hear… “I’m all weddinged out.”

“Wash your mouth out!” I gasped, aghast.

The Senorita had been on a steady diet of pre-wedding documentaries for a couple of weeks, but I wanted more. I wanted a partner in crime to get my wedding fix with. I felt like I was having a sugar crash when the telecast was over.

On Sunday morning we watched the news, read the paper and we spoke separately to Mum and Dad for a debrief.

“What channel did you watch it on, Dad?”

“ABC of course, why, what channel did you watch it on?”

“Channel Nine”

“Oh!” he sounded perplexed. “But you would’ve had… advertisements!”

The Senorita and I talked about how happy we were that we could watch the wedding together and how wonderful it had been. “So wonderful, in fact… I’m buying the crockery!” the Senorita announced.

“I know! me too, and you know what, I’m going to USE the crockery!” I shouted.

That afternoon we carried on the spirit of beauty, history, tradition and royalty by visiting the Cartier exhibition at the National Gallery.

A highlight for me was the “Royal Room”, where the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding tiara, lent to her by the Queen, is on display.

 

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The “Royal Room” – where the magic happens.

 

 

In the exhibition we found our people. We overheard clusters of middle-aged women talking about “the wedding” (and jewellery of course), and we jumped right into the conversations. We were in our spirit place.

In the news report we’d watched earlier, we saw two middle-aged sisters from Adelaide who camped out overnight in chairs on the carriage-ride route. When asked if all the time, money and effort getting from Adelaide to Windsor had been worth it for a 30 second glimpse of the happy couple.

“Yes!” they said emphatically. When the sunshine hit her tiara and made it sparkle, it was amazing!”

Would you do it again? asked the reporter. “Yes!” they enthused.

“Why?”

“Because it was fun!”

And I know if my sister and I had been in a position to go to Windsor, we would’ve got caught up in the spirit of it all and enjoyed ourselves just as much as those two sisters did, as we did in my living room. Because it was fun. It’s fun to see people whose stories we’ve seen and heard over the years, experience such a happy and beautiful event. In reality we’re removed and distant, but thanks to perspective and the media, I feel like we’ve watched Harry grow up.

Did you watch the wedding? And would you ever drink champagne from a Kate and William commemorative tea cup? Maybe I should relax my crockery and stemware standards, mix things up a bit? I never could embrace that “drink in a jar” fad.

Shocking savage seagulls of Sydney the sequel: Mothers’ Day – away with the birds

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Imagine the title of this post being spoken in the kind of voice typically heard in a horror movie trailer.  Maybe with some chilling, high-pitched, psycho violins reminiscent of stabbing.

But we’ll get to the seagulls later. Mothers’ Day 2018 in Canberra was pretty low key which is just how I wanted it: a chance to sleep in, teach Spider Boy how to make my breakfast (after he ran into my room at a reasonable hour to give me a beautiful card and origami box he’d made) go to Bunnings for a sausage sandwich and some double-sided wall adhesive, and a little walk and coffee by the lake. There were no seagulls. But there were chips, and former-Sydneysider Spider Boy commented how lovely it was to eat chips by the sea, while lakeside at Kingston Foreshore. I knew what he meant. But just as well we weren’t by the sea in Sydney, after what I heard next…

On the way home from our pleasant little lakeside stroll, my sister Senorita Margarita called to report a savage seagull incident in the Harbour city. She and my mum had decided to take a ferry from Rose Bay to Circular Quay and enjoy some fish and chips by the water. According to the Senorita, just as Mum was about to tuck in to her seafood lunch, fish on fork on its way to her mouth, a seagull swooped in, stole the fork from under her nose, slapping her in the cheek with its wing as it flew off, fork in beak with the fish still attached. Then it ate the fish and dropped the cutlery on the ground. Not only a violent thief, but a tosser!

As my sister recounted mum’s seagull encounter over the phone we both started laughing at the sheer gall of the gull, but then I was laughing so hard I nearly ran the car off Yamba drive. My laughter was hypercritical, considering I got annoyed when Spider Boy laughed at me spilling my flat white on my new felt winter hat that very afternoon (and in case you’ve got a mental picture, I wasn’t wearing my hat at the time)

The Senorita reminded me of another seagull event at the Quay a few years ago, when one decided to move into her lustrous blonde curls during her lunch break, while its seagull sidekick did a fly-by and took a bite of her sandwich as she brought it to her mouth. Yes, the Circular Quay seagulls are particularly bold.

Later that day after hearing about Mum’s seagull drama,  I rang my dad.

Dad, who has recently moved to the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney, had ventured back to the East for the weekend. We swapped stories about our Sundays. He complained about Sydney traffic, Sydney queues, Sydney prices, Sydney attitude and annoying and expensive Lexuses and Range Rovers in Centennial Park, and how he’s so happy that’s all behind him now that he’s moved to the Mountains. (I must admit, I do love being able to visit him there.) And then I told Dad about my peaceful Mothers’ Day in Canberra, and about my Mother’s not-so-peaceful day in Sydney.

While relating the story of the savage seagulls at Circular Quay, it occured to me the Seagulls were just like Sydney itself… they were, in fact, very Sydney seagulls.

“Yes!” agreed Dad. “That’s exactly what they are – Very. Sydney. Seagulls!”

In May 2014, I blogged about a family outing where we experienced another particularly rude seagull event coupled with terrible service from an ice-cream vendor. Here’s an edited version of Sunday drive: savage seagulls, snakes and service with a snarl

My sister Senorita Margarita, Mum Spider Boy and I decided on a nice low-key beach area. So not Bondi. We drove south and ended up at Botany Bay.

We bought fish and chips and made our way down to the little beach facing the airport runways. There was lots of interesting things to look at, and balmy weather considering it was May.

We perched on the wall of an elevated garden bed since all the benches were taken. Suddenly, A flock of seagulls descended. Spider Boy wanted to run, run so far away (sorry, any chance to bring up the 80s).

Spider Boy was edgy. He tensed as the seagulls squawked and edged closer to his lunch. “Should I give them some lunch?” He asked, obviously hoping that feeding them would make them go away.

“No!” I squawked. “If you do that, they’ll never leave! They’ll just get louder, closer and more annoying! Like Mummy nagging.”

So we sat there uncomfortably perched on the garden bed, sea grass tickling our legs, seagulls staring us down, wind blowing my hair in my face.

Suddenly a rampaging toddler disturbed the status quo, throwing out the delicate mutual respect Spider Boy and I had achieved with the flock of seagulls. They squawked, they flapped. Spider Boy jumped. Then I felt something drop onto my fish and chips paper at the same time as hearing a distinctive splat! I felt something wet on my hand and leg.

I looked at my lunch fearing what I knew I would see there, and I’m not talking about tartare sauce.

“A seagull just pooed on my lunch!” I shared with my family and passers-by.
“Well at least a seagull didn’t land on your head!” said The Senorita. “That happened to me once you know!” 

Here are some pics from Sunday…

 

Where have I been? Where am I going?

pexels-photo-262508.jpegDo you know that slightly trepidatious feeling you may sometimes get when you’re about to see someone you haven’t seen for a long time? Would you recognise each other? Would it be awkward?

I feel like that after returning from a six-month blogging absence.  While I have presented as absent online, I haven’t been absent in my head. I’ve composed blog posts on the fly, a lot. Not just posts, but completely different blogs. But I haven’t transferred thoughts to pixels.

Life is running through my fingers like, like sands through the hourglass (former Days of Our Lives fan and some things never leave you). I haven’t made the time to write, but I think about it nearly everyday. But I put it off because so many other things need to be done.

But I’m sick of putting it off. I love it. I want the ideas and words in my head to come out onto a page (or screen). Because I love the process and I love the result. When I put words together to paint a picture, I’m in flow and things make sense.

If I’m feeling doubt or confusion, writing helps bring order to my thoughts. Maybe getting the words out of my head and into some semblance of order, helps me see the big picture, helps to remove some of the intensity of feeling. Helps me be more objective. It can be like taking a little mental holiday.

I note that it is almost a year to the day that I published a post titled, Happy New Year, now it’s Mothers’ Day! A post written after not publishing since December the year before. I can’t believe the same thing has happened this year, except this year, I haven’t published a post since November 2017 – 6 months! May it never be this long between posts again.

Looking back, I see my reasons for not posting are pretty much the same as last year. And some things didn’t go the distance, like my so-called “...renewed focus about what I want this blog to be.” I think those ideas have changed and I’m still working it out, but I don’t want to stop posting in the meantime.

It will be what it will be.

The trepidation is lifting and it’s great to see you again, Blog!

Cocktails and dreams: back to the 80s at 88mph

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As an 80s teen and someone who saw Back to the Future three times when it was first released, AT THE CINEMA, I knew Canberra’s new 80s-themed bar, 88mph, had my  name all over it. I couldn’t wait to go Back in time! (thank you Huey Lewis and the News).

This new venture by owners Ant Arena, Lorenzo Focarile and Dean Brown, the team behind Canberra bars Highball Express, Black Market and Molly,  had its opening night earlier in November.

With my visiting Sydneysider sister (Señorita Margarita) in town for a Day of the Dead festival, a perfect opportunity presented itself afterwards to jump into my DeLorean (aka my Toyota Corolla hatchback), flux up the flux capacitor and go be with my people, the 80s McFly barflys.

After a quick stop at Kokomo, we drove the few blocks to Hobart Place. It was unseasonably cold, we were bare-legged, high-heeled and Señorita Margarita was in full Dia de la noche sugar skull face paint. She looked amazing and I admire how she always embraces the theme of any event, but to the uninitiated, she was a hybrid of Marcel Marceau, Skeletor and Frida Kahlo.

Well get out of my dreams and into my car! I couldn’t believe we got a free car park literally right outside the front of the building (the aptly named Neon House) where 88mph is located.

“See Marg?” I said, ready to launch into another iteration of my “Canberra has things” monologue (#canberrahasthings).

“You couldn’t do this in Sydney! Can you imagine parking right outside anywhere you wanted to go in the city in Sydney on a Saturday night? Can you??”

“No Al, but it IS only 8pm.” she observed.

We were greeted by the warmly familiar, yet exciting, neon glow of the 88mph signage, all dreamy purple and pink reflecting off the wet-look black subway-tiled entrance. Down the steps we went, into another world, back in time.

I knew I would love it even before I got in there, but once I was in the bar, I knew my love was real (because as Cheryl Lynn says, it’s got to be real). The owners refer to 88mp as a bar, but it is so much more than that. There is a dance floor that lights up. Not huge, but big enough for fun with your peeps, and other peeps. There are video games, pinball, menus presented in VHS cases, hot pink cassette tapes and black VHS tapes representing an equaliser as wall art, pizza, and oh hail, lord-of-the-night-that-doesn’t take-itself-seriously – three karaoke rooms!

There were colourful cocktails on tap for $14 for a standard cocktail glass, an extensive list of wines, and beers on tap. Feeling hungry and hoping for something to nibble, I looked at the menu and realised it was pizza ($14) or nothing.

I ordered the “Chicken Pizza” and the cute, young, young bartender with not a whisker of hair on his baby-face, seemed amused. “You want the Chicken Pizza,” he said, like it was funny. He explained there is no “Chicken Pizza”, the “Chicken Pizza” is a nick-name for the “Vegetarian Pizza”. Then I realised I hadn’t actually read the fine-print description of the “Chicken Pizza” because I thought the name was pretty self-explanatory. And I’d been too vain to wear my olde lady middle-aged reading glasses. Oh how we laughed!

I studied this young whipper-snapper as he poured a cocktail, as Heaven 17’s Temptation (1983) was playing, and mused that he wouldn’t even have existed in the 80s.  This was reminding me too much of Back to the Future 2, and I was a crumpled, middle-aged Lea Thompson, aka Lorraine Baines McFly, Marty McFly’s mother. But fortunately the lights were low, being a bar and all, so when I told my bar tender, “You know, I was going out to bars in the actual 80s”,  he replied, “Surely not?!” Dude knows how to score a tip.

Meanwhile back in my own era, I chatted to a friendly middle-aged group and we reminisced about the decade in which we came of age. Then my buzzer went off telling me my food was ready.

A dedicated pizza guy was whipping up made-to-order pizzas. It was served to me hot and fresh on a gingham-patterned plate. My sister and I walked around with said plate trying to find somewhere to sit; both of the two long booths we approached were taken up with guests from two separate parties.

A handsome bearded man suddenly appeared in my path, apologising for the lack of tables, and I realised he must be one of the owners. There’d been a hitch, he explained, but tables and chairs would be arriving Monday he said. It was easy to forgive, after all this was only the bar’s second night.

Senorita Margarita and I perched on bar stools and rested the pizza plate on the top of one of the booths. I inhaled half the pizza immediately.  It was hot, fresh and delicious. I decided I wanted to take the rest home and the guy at the pizza oven was very helpful; apologising for the lack of pizza boxes as he put it in a plastic takeaway food container for me – more handbag friendly than a pizza box, and all to the strains of Alison Moyet’s Don’t Go (1982).

Now The Jackson’s Can you Feel it?  (1980) was playing and it was time to hit the dance floor. Super Freak (1981) was next and Señorita Margarita busted her best moves in her sugar skull face paint. She sure is super freaky.

At about 8.45pm the place really started filling up. And not a moment too soon, because when you’re my age, you turn into a pumpkin at 9.30pm. In a joyful flashback to my 1989 Queensland girls’ holiday at the Contiki Island Resort, the B52s Love Shack brought the crowd to the dance floor – in fact I would go as far as saying, the whole shack shimmied!

Then suddenly I was back in Oxford Street Sydney’s pre-Kardashian Klub Kakadu with Yaz’s The only way is up (1988). We had a quick peek at the three Karaoke rooms and promised to book one on another night.

Then it was a journey back to Year 7 with Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1982). A twenty- something guy in a yellow bow tie started doing the Thriller dance – and the whole shack was still shimmying as everyone on the dance floor brought their best zombie/wolf arms.

Then suddenly a man was dancing in front of me. He told me it was his buck’s night. I told him I was going to places like this in the actual 80s.

“Me too, ay” he told me. “I’m old, this is my second buck’s night. I’m 37!” Huh. Spring chicken pizza in my book.

Because Girls just wanna have fun, Señorita Margarita danced with him in her huge pink tutu. Buck’s night guy may have been Hungry like the wolf, but it was Margarita who went into full Thriller mode as she zombied-it up.

It was an early one for us, we left at 9.15pm and not a moment too soon, as my scalp had started itching with a post-pizza hives breakout mid-way through my Walk This Way air-guitar solo. I could feel the hot and itchy beginnings of a full-body hive attack under my body-suit. Feeling like Michael J.Fox on the verge of a Teen Wolf-style werewolf transition, I knew I had to get out of there fast before my itchy secret was discovered.

It’s not 88mph’s fault – It took a heavy gluten day for me to finally accept I have a gluten sensitivity that must be respected if I don’t want to be red, itchy, scratchy and spotty and, let’s face it, the rest of the seven dwarves (sneezy, grumpy, and sleepy). But that’s probably a story for another blog post.

If it wasn’t for the hives, I could’ve hit that high like George Michael in Wake me up before you go go. That and the fact that mum-duties beckoned, as I’d promised Spider Boy’s dad I would be home at a reasonable time.

But, I promise 88mph,  like the 80s themselves, “I’ll be back.”  I’m so happy I can feel like it’s the 80s again whenever I want. It’s a full-immersive experience. It’s amazing how music and decor can bring the feeling.

The verdict: 88mph was a fun night out with positive vibes from the crowd. On the night we went, there was a good mix of ages, ranging from twenty-somethings to people my age and possibly even older. But everyone was smiling and having as much fun as a Wham! video. Sydney-dweller Margarita observed, “I love how in Canberra you get all kinds of different people in the one club.”

As owner Ant Arena told goodfood.com.au earlier this month, “We want this to be Canberra’s most fun night out – that’s the idea. You come here, the cocktails are gonna be great, the environment’s really cool, and the music – you can’t listen to the 80s and not smile,” he said. I’ll drink to that. Now, baby-faced bar keep, pass me a Blue Lagoon.

 

Literal: Basement, 8/10 Hobart Pl, Canberra, ACT

Virtual: www.88mph.bar

Pop quiz: What 80s movie does this blog post’s title come from? (Hint: there is a link to the song Kokomo)

Are there any fun 80s bars or clubs where you live?

Focus Schmocus

Where has the year gone? I ask myself every year at about this time.

I was just reading my most recent blog post (apart from the Angelina Jolie garage sale reblog the other week) from SIX months ago…where I said, “…I’m clearer now about what I want this blog to be. So here’s to my renewed focus!” Blah blah blah.

Winter and almost all of Spring have passed since I wrote that sentence, and the new blog focus has clearly not manifested.

So what have I been doing? Plotting and planning for The Alexcellent Life, figuring out the best way to structure my actual life,which – I’ll let you in on a little secret – is sometimes the mediocre life rather than The Alexcellent life – but we have to have something to aspire to! There’s parenting, my school-hours job, any freelance work, other business ideas, family time, extended family time, social time, life-admin, house maintenance, and just the business of living.

I will sum up the past few months with a visual retrospective of what I didn’t blog about…

I also didn’t blog about:

  • My 30-year high-school reunion which I was nervous about going to but turned out not to be so bad. In fact I’m really glad I went. It was great to reconnect and realise that those girls are just real people and we’ve all had our share of knocks
  • Lots of joy in the ordinary, but also a decent amount of worry, tiredness, and frustration
  • Flu for Spider Boy and me
  • The passing of Spider Boy’s grandfather, my-ex’s dad
  • Lots of work. Work work, housework, personal work
  • Bill juggling, haggling and staggering
  • 9am Sunday morning soccer in Winter
  • Several Sydney visits as well as visitors from Sydney
  • Plotting, planning, thinking, consolidating.
  • NO Tinder-swiping which has been a big fat relief

I have loads more photos on my phone but my old MacBook already has so many photos on it that it really struggles to cope with more.  Otherwise I’d show you more pics here.  I really need to buy a hard-drive or something.

So that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. So I’m not going to talk about things like “my renewed focus”. I often think about something my year 3 teacher from 1978 said.  I can’t remember her name, but I remember her well. Our class motto was “Don’t say it, do it!”

And that is exactly what I will do.

 

I-Can’t-Believe-Angelina-Jolie-Came-To-My-Garage-Sale!

This weekend (Oct 21 -22) is Garage Sale Trail, with over 10,000 garage sales and stalls happening all over Australia. The yearly event that started in Bondi in 2010, is a great opportunity to declutter, find your treasure in another’s trash, fundraise, make some extra cash and meet the locals. For more info garagesaletrail.com.au #garagesaletrail

It got me thinking about a sale I had four years ago in Sydney’s east that didn’t make me much cash, but generated a whole lot of fun and a celebrity sighting (I think)…

The Alexcellent Life

My gorgeous street emporium of fashion and fun. My gorgeous street emporium of fashion and fun.

English: Angelina Jolie at the Cannes film fes... Angelina Jolie at the Cannes Film Festival. Not at my garage sale. credit: Wikipedia.

A lot of unbelievable things have been happening round here lately, from my making butter from scratch (scratch!) to a major Hollywood star turning up unannounced at the garage sale I had as part of the 2013 Garage Sale Trail. This national event organises communities around Australia to hold garage sales on the same day. The aim is to promote the re-use of unwanted goods, saving them from landfill.  Apparently it’s also helped 800,000 people in Australia meet their neighbours! But then, who needs neighbours when you’ve got Angelina Jolie popping by?

Before I tell you about my famous browser, let me tell you about my gorgeous little “shop”. At garage sale time, all my fantasies about having a little shop and selling gorgeous things (channelling Patsy from Ab Fab…

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Happy New Year… now it’s Mother’s Day!

It’s been a long time between posts here at The Alexcellent Life. The last post I wrote was about George Michael’s death while I was on a Sydney visit over Christmas/New Year.

January was busy. We had a beautiful wedding to go to, and raced around visiting family and friends and a couple of beaches because, Sydney in January.

I had many post ideas to write in the last quarter of 2016, but they remained in my head. Time constraints, as well as not having a clear direction for this blog, contributed to the lack of actual posts. As did my finally working out how to hook up Netflix. I binged on episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend every night.

But now that that’s over, I’m clearer now about what I want this blog to be. So here’s to my renewed focus!

While the changes to The Alexcellent Life are brewing, here’s a little retrospective of just some of what I didn’t blog about…

The lesson of 2016: Choose Life while you still can.

choose-life

I drafted a fresh post about George Michael on Boxing Day, but before I could hit publish, another icon, Carrie Fisher, had died. People we don’t know die every day, the loved ones of others. Sometimes it’s someone dear to us and it’s terrible. But when an icon dies, someone who may have occupied your thoughts and woven their sparkle into your pop-cultural tapestry of reference, you also feel the loss. Sometimes youre prepared for these events, other times not.

I was not prepared for George Michael’s death. 53 is young. Not to the 15-year-old me, but to me today, 53 is young. When David Bowie and Prince died this year, I felt sad. But George Michael was not just a musician to me, he was part of my emotional landscape for much of my teens and I just took it for granted that he would be around for a long time.

As I drafted this on Boxing Day, self-medicating with champagne and liqueur chocolates, I felt a poignant mix of sadness and gratitude. Sad that George Michael’s gone too soon, but grateful that such an artist existed in the first place and gave me, and all who wanted it, his gift of music.

George Michael may have  started as just a popstar, derided for his penchant for a gimmick (Choose Life, fluro clothes, happy brain-candy pop tunes and lyrics) but after the 1987 release of his solo album Faith, it was clear that George had real talent, the respect of other established artists (Elton John, Aretha Franklin) and the voice of an angel with a knack for lyrics and musical arrangement.

I know many people my age have uttered these words the past few days, but George Michael provided a soundtrack to much of my generation. He was there for every heartache of my teen years, and in troubled times I would look up at the poster on my bedroom wall, to see George gazing down at me. I felt reassured by his smile showing off amazing white teeth, and his blond tipped hair. I just felt assured that everything was going to be OK.

I first heard of the pop duo Wham! when the singles were released from their 1983 album Fantastic. I was 13 and thought Bad Boys was so cool when I heard it on Sydneys “Rock of the 80s” 2SM. They were bad boys in leather kissing girls in pearls, as the lyrics from Young Guns go. But in this era of one TV in the house, no video recorder and decades away from the internet, I didnt actually lay eyes on singer George Michael until a year later. It was at my friend Naughty Kates house, and Wake Me Up Before You Go Go and Careless Whisper were both played on Countdown.

Whos THAT? I thought, immediately taken with his hair, his teeth, his shorts. Kate  and Nadia, my Wham!-partner-in-crime, seemed to know who he was. I was 14 and I was instantly in love.

It wasnt long afterwards that Wham! announced Sydney concert dates.  They played the  Entertainment Centre on 26th January 1985. Nadia and I were there with four other girls from school, right up the back, a gaggle of gigglers in electric blue mascara and tube skirts. And it was only days after this that I came face-to-face with George in the flesh after stalking him at the Sebel Town House, which is a whole other blog post.

My career plan from the age of 15 was literally, that when I turned 18 I was going to go to England, hunt down George Michael and marry him. Or if that didnt work out, I was going to join the cast of Neighbours. I was deluded, but at least I had the sense never to admit it to the careers counsellor at school, prefering to hide my true feelings behind the more socially acceptable “journalism”.  I maintained the facade of joining the real world sometime in the late 80s when I completed that Diploma in Journalism. Really, I saw it as an entree to the world of celebrity.

I was convinced George would be mine – I’d done my research. I knew, from reading the English version of Smash Hits, that Georges favourite foods were Mars Bars, Scotch, and Mayonnaise and that he liked to go to a London club called Stringfellows. A quick google search more than 30 years later, tells me Stringfellows is a lap-dancing club, but no matter, I’m sure it would’ve been a great place to start my search.

I knew George’s father ran a Greek restaurant on Edgware Road, Edgware. Again, thank you Smash Hits. My friend Nadia and I even rang the damn restaurant from the pay phone in the girls toilets during school recess once. We found the phone number without the internet thanks very much.

I found out all about his personal life. Oh the jealousy I felt towards; Pat Hernandez, his rumoured girlfriend, Brooke Shields, rumoured to be dating him, and even poor Pepsi and Shirely his backup singers, because at least they got to be actual friends with him. Oh why couldn’t I just be five years older, like Brooke Shields – then he’d be mine.

Nadia and I would get the bus to Grace Brothers Bondi Junction on Saturday mornings and stand in front of a video jukebox that had their song Club Tropicana as one of the selections -we could choose life in our Choose Life t-shirts but we couldnt even select the damn song on the department store jukebox- we had to wait for it to randomly come on. We would stand there for all morning, waiting to get a glimpse of Georges thigh jiggling in his white speedos. No, we didnt have a video recorder at home. Back in my day, we had to wait for things. My son, Spider Boy, who in a happy coincidence, is also called George (named after his Greek grandfather), just cant believe it. If he wants to see something now he just looks it up asks me to look it up on You Tube.

The problems of teenage life and school seemed to be diluted by a big Wham!-shaped distraction. Sticking pictures of George and Andrew in short white shorts, ever-present fluro tops and blonde tipped hair all over our school diaries, reading Smash Hits and Countdown Magazine out loud and squealing with delight at lunch, and fantasising about how our lives would be when we finally met George and Andy. But mainly George.

Nadia showed herself to be a true friend of the highest order when she announced to me in a study period one day, “You can have George”.

“What? Really?” I asked.

“Yes. I prefer George, but I know how much you like him, so when we meet them, you can have George. Ill have Andrew.” What a friend.

But sometimes Nadia liked to play bizarre mind games, one day randomly uttering to me in another year 10 study period, “You hate Georges mother.”

“What?” I asked.

You hate Georges mother” she repeated.

“Why? Why would I hate Georges mother?” I asked, incredulous.

“You think shes trying to take George away from you” she stated.

I got a strange sense of enjoyment from that exchange, because Nadia was acknowledging my “relationship” as a real-life thing. She was making it all seem possible.

It was this bizarre fantasy world we lived in that probably contributed to my abysmal HSC mark, or perhaps helped me cope with my teenage issues of the day.

We were famous for our Wham! obsession. Gigi, Nadias neighbour who Id heard of but hadnt met before, approached us at the bus-stop one day in the summer holidays of 1985. She smiled quizzically with her hot-pink lipsticked lips. “So Nadia, do you still like Wham!?” she questioned, as though liking Wham! was something vaguely amusing. Gigi was just a little bit cooler with her preference for Spandau Ballet. But Tony Hadley was no George Michael.

“Well yes, actually I do, and thats why Alex and I are going into the city today.” She told Gigi. Nadia and I were getting the bus into town to see a display of George Michaels concert outfits that were to be auctioned off for Live Aid, Bob Geldofs charity event to raise money for famine victims in Ethiopia.

30 years later, it would be Gigi who first alerted me to Georges death, with her text on Boxing Day morning “Did you hear about George Michael?” with a crying emoji.

Our Wham reputation culminated in a school camp, where Nadia and I clearly couldnt cope with four nights away from our Wham! posters at home, so we just bought one to camp with us and hung it in our tent. The other girls started singing Wake Me Up Before You Go Go around the campfire. Not in the spirit of inclusiveness, but to mock us. You know when youre being mocked. The poster may have been defaced from memory. Im pretty sure it was. The cool girls liked Duran Duran and U2.

My love for Wham! never went away, I still listen to the music from time to time and love to belt out Georges brilliant lyrics in songs like Freedom (NOT 1990, but the 1984 song of the same name; Like a prisoner who has his own key, but I cant escape until you love me, I just go from day to day knowing all about the other boys… and Wham Rap. But my fan-obsessiveness fell away as I grew up and other things took its place, like actually growing up, real life, job, study, actual males and not just an image on a poster or a video.

Even though I never would meet him in his dads restaurant, or share a Mars Bar with him at Stringfellows, George gave me more than he could ever imagine; Not only did my crush provide me with a “boyfriend” without the hassle of actually having one, I was able to harness the passion I felt for him between 1984 – 1986 and later use it in my job as editor of Smash Hits magazine more than a decade later.

It was this understanding of the passion our readers felt for Taylor Hanson and Leonardo DiCaprio that allowed me to write down my vision for the relaunch for Smash Hits magazine in 1997 and turn it into the fastest growing magazine in Australian that year. I knew what our readers wanted. I knew that they really thought they were going to marry Taylor Hanson. Just the way I knew I was going to marry George. They wanted to be close to the stars and I knew how to make the readers feel that Smash Hits was their ticket to the first class carriage on the pop star express.

My love for George became a fond memory. Ive thought at various times in my life that I would be sad when he dies one day. When Im old. When he’s older.  It wasnt meant to happen now, and not on Christmas Day. But thats the thing about life isnt it? A sobering reminder that anything can happen and there’s so much we can’t control.

In Wham!‘s debut single Wham Rap (1982) George prophetically sang the words …you can dig your grave, I’m staying young... Well he did stay young, simply in the fact that he will now never grow old.

I like the advice he raps in the same song, Make the most of every day, don’t let hard times stand in your way, give a wham give a bam but don’t give a damn cos the benefit gang are gonna pay! Forgetting the last bit about doing what you want cos you can just get the dole, the sentiment about making the most of every day serves as a warning.

I stopped following George’s career closely after I gave up on my dream of marrying him, I only took a vague interest in news items about him in the ensuing years.  Did he make the most of every day? Maybe he did, probably more so after his near death from pneumonia in 2011. but in any case, it can serve the rest of us as a poignant reminder of how to live.

So remember to give a wham, give a bam (whatever the hell that is) but don’t give a damn. Don’t give any f*&%s about what’s not important, and make the most of your days. Each day. Because we just don’t know what the next day is going to bring.

I showed this post to Nadia who is still one of my dearest friends to this day and she texted me after reading”… the bit about me saying ‘You hate George’s mother’ etc, cracks me up as I’d forgotten about it.” I told her how funny and original she is, and she replied “…2017 is going to be the year of fun! I can feel it. Too many people dying and getting sick so remember YOLO – you only live once.”

So Wham Rap will be our new philosophy-in-a-song. Just as well, as Ill never be able to listen to Last Christmas, one of my favourites that does double duty as love song and Christmas carol, the same way again. We listened to it at Christmas.

My ex-husband who played DJ this year, told me “Alex, this ones for you”. We had no way of knowing that the very next day, the grim reaper would not give George’s heart away, but completely destroy it, as my ex joked about Georges character in the song having a new girlfriend and still being hung up on the one from last year.

I feel for George’s loved ones, including best friend and partner-in-Wham!, Andrew Ridgeley,  that they’ve lost George so young, so unexpectedly, and on Christmas Day. That song will take on an extra significance now.

Thank you for helping shape my youth, George. Thank you for providing a mental escape route from the hardships of growing up, and for a catalogue of songs that have added colour, melody and texture to the lives of a generation.

 

Looking for George Michael

Hearing about George Michael’s death yesterday was certainly a shock and made me remember all the moments I shared with him (in my head). But there was one moment I shared with him in real life. I don’t know if “share” is the right word since George probably wasn’t aware of my presence, yet I was there.

Here’s a post I wrote last year about the experience…

So Sunday was my birthday. Forty-f’ing-five. Has it really been 30 years since I stalked George Michael at the Sebel Town House in Sydney?

I will never forget my 15th birthday. It was February 1, 1985. English pop duo Wham! were in Sydney on tour. On Australia Day, dressed in my electric-blue tube skirt, I had gone to the concert at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. I knew I had to meet George.

In those last days of January before we started Year 10, my friends Nadia and Kate and I stood outside the celebrity hotel du jour, the Sebel Town House, every day, to wait for Wham! We befriended the other girls (and one boy) that were there on Elizabeth Bay Road, writing messages to George and Andy in chalk on the pavement and listening to Wake Me Up Before You Go Go on the boom box that somebody brought.

At one point my friends and I got sick of waiting outside the hotel. We took action and walked up the front steps. Strutting into the lobby we were immediately approached by a security guard. “Ladies… can I help you?”

“We’re here to see Wham!” we declared. This was going to be easier than I thought! “Wham!?” he repeated. “I believe they’re out swimming in the harbour today. ” Which was very helpful of him really.

We did an about-face and walked to the harbour foreshore. We ended up at Woolloomooloo, probably not the best swimmer-stalking place, but what did we know? Any distant yachts we saw heading towards Mrs. Macquarie’s chair we’d call out “Is that you George and Andyiiiiiiiieeeee?”

Things were getting depressing. Even we knew it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Especially since we were yachtless. We trudged back up to Whamette Central and waited again.

After what seemed like hours, we noticed a group of official-looking people heading towards the hotel’s front entrance. Someone was walking just behind the group. We could distinctly see blond hair. Those blond highlights shimmered gold in the late afternoon sun. And then we could see his face. And it was…. Rod Stewart??? Or Rod Spewart as we liked to call him.

He arrived with a look on his face that said, “Here I am girls, don’t all grab me at once”, but then seemed genuinely hurt and disappointed when we all just stared at him. No screaming. No grabbing.

Rod was OK, but when you’re waiting for George Michael, Rod Stewart simply won’t do. He slunk inside the Sebel with his unnecessary minders.

Rod emerged a short time later and got onto a mini-bus. Where was George? Where? And why couldn’t we have the same access to George that we had to Rod. It would be 10 years before Alanis Morissette’s anthemic Ironic  would be released. But I’m sure I was brewing a similar ditty in my head… “It’s like 10,000 Rod Stewarts, when you all need is a George Michael.” Or something like that.

I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Rod. I approached his mini-bus and looked for the window with the nest of blonde spikes in it. I tapped on it. His head was turned away. I tapped again. He turned to look at me. The sulky look on his face said it all – he was sulking. I gave him a smile and a little wave. Yeah, like I could make up for all that rejection. He must’ve known it was a pity wave. He waved sulkily back.

February 1 rolled around – I think it must’ve been the day before school went back. Mum gave me a groovy new accessories pack from Sportsgirl. Big round black and white chequerboard earrings were part of the package. Jitter. Bug.

But then Mum gave me the best present of all: “Come on”, she said, “I’ll drive you to the Sebel Town House.”

When we parked just across the road and up a smidge from the hotel (everything was easier in the 80s) Mum said, “Isn’t that him there?” I looked and saw the glorious golden blow wave of gorgeous George. He was wearing a bright blue shirt. He was standing at the top of the front steps of the Sebel, like a king addressing his subjects.

“Well go on!” said Mum, wondering why I wasn’t getting out of the car.

My heart sped up and my mouth went dry. This was my future husband after all. What would I say to him? My hands started to shake as I opened the car door.

I stepped onto the road and tried to walk across it. The saying about legs turning to jelly is a cliché, but it’s what they felt like. They had never felt like that before, and now that I think about it, not since. I had the gait of a new-born foal as I stumbled across the road in my white sandals, toward my love.

Now that I had George Michael in my path, what would I do with him? He was signing autographs for a few lucky girls who had been waiting on the steps. I continued toward him with my little piece of paper.

When I was a couple of metres away, George was whisked down the steps and into a waiting car. I felt a bizarre combination of relief and disappointment. It had all happened so quickly. I wouldn’t be getting my little piece of paper signed by George, but at least I didn’t have to talk to him.

In an 11th-hour surge of boldness, I tapped on his Georgeousness’s car window. The glass was completely black. I couldn’t see a thing. This wasn’t Rod Stewart’s vehicle you know.

Did George see me? Maybe.

And at that moment, that was enough.

I don’t think my nerves could’ve handled anything more.

Some exclusive pictures from my official Wham! Scrapbook. Maybe it's time to let go now? I am forty-f'ing-five, after all.

Some exclusive pictures from my official Wham! Scrapbook that helped me get through the pain of being 15.  Maybe it’s time to let this relic go now, so I can concentrate on the pain of being forty-f’ing-five.