Sex and the City: Dated, or does it still have something to teach us about dating? 29 lessons from SATC

Sex and the City (SATC) turned 20 last month. Yes, I’m late to celebrate the party because,  life (and the city). But I wanted to acknowledge the milestone with a blog post, as it’s been one of my favourite TV shows over the years and I feel compelled to share some pearls of wisdom from those SATC ladies… 20 years and 2 months later.

A Google search on “lessons from Sex and the City” delivers a whole host of content, both negative and positive over what was, in the late 90s, a ground-breaking show.

Has SATC aged badly?

An anonymous writer for USA Today, in a piece titled 20 years later, ‘Sex and the City’ has aged badly (June 5), says that the show’s sensibility has become “irksome” in view of today’s cultural zeitgeist, and that some episodes now seem homophobic or racist.

“I ate up their romantic and sexual exploits and I listened to Carrie’s’ voiceover with reverence. But two decades after it premiered, I’m not so sure I believe everything the ladies who brunch had to say”.

A 40-something male friend of mine, Raj, agrees it has aged, but thinks the show deserves credit for capturing many of the types of experiences people – especially women – still face on the dating scene. “It’s not as ‘real’ as say, Girls, but there was no way a show like that would’ve been shown at the time (late 90s/early 00s)” he says.

I agree that it’s dated in some ways, but I find repeat viewing still serves up the laughs and some truths about dating 20 years later. And people must still watch it because it was on free-to-air TV last night – for three hours!

SATC was heralded as a controversial new show when it launched,  because it portrayed women going for what they want just because they want it, and not having that pursuit be part of the marriage agenda. It portrayed women “having sex like a man”, and talking about – shock – actual sex acts.

Far too outrageous

Before I even saw an episode, I remember thinking that it sounded like it was just not for me and would be far too outrageous. I felt challenged by the concept of it. But then I watched it and loved it. It wasn’t really so much about sex at all, but about friendship, questioning accepted social mores and daring to be true to yourself.

It also served up eye candy every week in the form of the cutting-edge outfits by Patricia Field, aesthetically-pleasing apartments and New York locations.  Another friend, Giselle, still loves the show for all of the above and takes from it the idea that, “You don’t need a man to have a good life, but the right man can bring you lots of happiness.”   

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No eye candy here. Absolutely nothing to see.

Who was I at the turn of the millennium?

When Sex and the City was in its hey day, I was in my late 20s and working in publishing. A couple of  years into the show’s run, I felt hemmed in by one particular boyfriend. I was just not that into him. But at least I didn’t dump him by Post-it note. I broke the news in person, in a shop doorway in Newtown one Friday night. Or maybe it was at Town Hall Station. Whatever Sydney situation it was , it was Breaking up and the City.

I wanted to be free and single,”…like the Sex and the City girls” I told people. I’d delayed “break-up talks” because I didn’t want to ruin the Olympics (Sydney 2000), although in hindsight it would’ve been preferable to be single for that – look at what the future Princess Mary achieved at Sydney’s Slip Inn.

By now I was working at Weight Watchers magazine with a whole lot of women (we put SJP on the cover of one issue). Whenever we attended events circa 2000 – 01, we needed to take a big spray of Rhinocort to cope with all the oversized flower brooches on the dresses and lapels of the PR and publishing crew. My peers, along with the SATC girls, were out in bars, drinking cocktails, going to launches, lunches, as well as shopping, brunching and chatting.

But back to my boyfriend… although I knew I wanted marriage and a family one day, I realised I didn’t want it with him. I wanted to be single for a while, party at Darling Harbour with athletes and princes (yeah… in my dreams) and not be beholden to anyone. I would find someone else to marry later.  But until that time,  I would curl up in bed on Monday nights for my double episode of SATC, eating buttered toast and honey (my secret single behaviour).

As for that boyfriend, let’s call him Tim (not his real name). I hope you’re not reading this, Tim. It’s highly unlikely, But if you are, I’m sorry, I couldn’t, don’t hate me. Anyway, I’m sure I saw you pull up next to my car at traffic lights 10 years later, and you looked really happy. So I’m sure it was for the best.

 

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Oh hello again. Could this be the right man to bring you lots of happiness?

And what was my friend Giselle doing circa 2000? She was waxing celebrity legs by day in one of London’s finest beauty salons, and corrupting her octogenarian Hungarian land lady with episodes of Sex and the City by night. “They’re all sluts!” land lady would exclaim. Slut-shaming aside, as I’ve mentioned, the show was about so much more than sex.

Carrie’s pithy narration and the characters’ one-liners, while clever and funny, sometimes did perpetuate stereotypes, and I concede could seem homophobic and racist at times when viewed through a 2018 gaze. Carrie’s voiceover told us things like, “The gay-straight man was a new strain of heterosexual male spawned in Manhattan as the result of overexposure to fashion, exotic cuisine, musical theatre and antique furniture.”

My friend Raj says he doesn’t recall it as being racist or homophobic but notes, “I’m obviously a fairly privileged middle-age man, because even now, I don’t see it. Modern Family plays up to gay stereotypes as much as Sex and the City ever did, and both do it with affection.”

Not affectionately enough for some. In an attempt to correct the labels, stereotypes and political incorrectness, the people behind the Instagram account @everyoutfitonsatc created the hashtag #WokeCharlotte. It’s a meme that refocusses the cultural lense to one that’s a bit more socially progressive.

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Didn’t Charlotte pull a great array of judgemental and appalled faces on the show? (Often about something Samantha was doing) Which is why it’s so easy to make a meme out of her correcting any political incorrectness.

My mate Raj concedes: “I guess there are some episodes that could be not PC, like the gay-straight man (and the converse) and Samantha’s line to (her actor boyfriend) Smith about “First the gays, then the girls, then the industry…”

“I suppose a lot of Charlotte’s views were very traditional. But she was meant to represent a prude, even then, and much of the show was about her opening her mind.”

Consuming any historical text through current eyes highlights the differences in thinking between now and then. But SATC does stand the test of time in its central tenet  – to remind us that women should be able to live their lives however they like, without judgement, and that they have the right not only to choose, but to shoes! But more on that later.

Sex and the City was ultimately intended to portray the lives of women living the single life and not being in the waiting room for marriage. Although Charlotte was always wanting to get married. But that was her choice. As she repeated in one episode, desperate for a critical Miranda to approve of her, “I choose my choice!”, when Miranda accused her of succumbing to traditional female roles by deciding to quit her job and not work, so she could focus on becoming pregnant.

Miranda, eventually comes around, as they all do in different situations, and while they would often make different choices from one another, after some discussion, debate (and a teensy bit of judgement in some cases) they were always there in the end, supporting each other’s choices.

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Another female choice was illustrated in the episode “A woman’s right to shoes”, where Carrie made the point that for years she and her single friends had subsidised the lives of married friends by buying them expensive wedding and baby shower gifts. Yet, now she was being judged by a married woman for spending money on expensive shoes. Carrie points out that she has a right to choose, and she chooses her shoes ($485 Manolo Blahniks in this case). The anonymous writer for USA Today who asserts the show has aged badly, concedes that this is one episode that does stand the test of time.

“I liked A woman’s right to Shoes at the time, but if anything, I find that episode has aged” Raj offers.  “It has a message, but it’s pushed to the point where I now find it manipulative.” Manipulative maybe, or perhaps the writers were making a point about something they’d heard their single friends complain about.

Criticisms aside, many, including me, still view the show with fondness. Years later, my friends and I still enjoy it as it raises questions and issues that we all remember and in some cases still relate to. And it’s funny. I love that I can still watch this show with my friends (even if it’s just over text) and we can still find humour and relatability in in.

“I still love Sex and the City, I think it’s still relevant today… I relate to Charlotte being such a romantic and love how Samantha acts like a man. I wish I could think like her!” says Giselle. And she loves the show for it’s focus on the female friendships.

My friend Nadia’s takeaway from Sex and the City is that “Women and men will always be the same, even though times have changed. We all want to love someone and to be loved.” She loves that it talked so openly about sex, as well as the depictions of some of the crazy situations they got into. “Especially Samantha! Samantha is a legend! I love how she goes for her man and is proud of her sexuality.”

My sister, Senorita Margarita, who was in her early twenties when the show was about to air, recalls she had just arrived in New York at the time… “I remember when I first got to New York from JFK airport and was catching the bus into town in June 1998, I saw a massive billboard with SJP on it in that nude-coloured cami dress with the words “Sex and the City on HBO” on it. It made a big impression as I had no idea what it was and obviously didn’t know how it would impact on and reflect culture and our societal ethos.”

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29 lessons in life and dating from the women of Sex and the City 

1. Despite what Donald Trump tweeted above, it’s OK to eat chocolate cake from the bin (Miranda). I’ve done it once or twice and even thought of Miranda while doing it.

2. If you don’t want to be dumped by a Post-it, then don’t leave them lying around. Invest in some stylish stationery and leave that lying around instead.

3. The gem that helped women just hand their worry over to the universe… If he doesn’t text you back, or call after a date and a week has gone by… he’s not sick, he probably hasn’t lost all his phone contacts… he’s probably just not that into you (which is a relief because now you can move on).

4. To avoid the risk of being fashion road-kill, just don’t walk the catwalk

5. If you must choose to walk the catwalk and risk being fashion roadkill, make sure you’re wearing spangled Dolce and Gabbana undies.

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6. Remember, even Heidi Klum feels the need to ask “Do I look OK?” before walking the catwalk.

7. Don’t party at 2am on a Tuesday if you don’t want to look like sh*t at your magazine cover photo shoot the next day. Especially if it’s an article on how being single is so hot right now.

8. Don’t use the F-word in Vera Wang.

9. But do swear on Chanel.

10. Just don’t get drunk at Vogue.

 

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11. Men in their 30s who live with their parents, smoke weed and run a comic book store, are only for Summer.

12. If your boyfriend delivers you a pizza-sized chocolate chip cookie with the words “I love you” on it, just eat it really quickly in one go so it doesn’t exist and you don’t have to deal with it. Emotional eating at its finest, thank you Miranda.

13. That as long as you can breathe, and kneel, you should be able to do whatever mutually consenting act you like without being judged by someone who happens to walk in on you.

14. Online shopping will never completely replace bricks and mortar retail, as shopping IS many people’s cardio.

15. If you’re forced to take your $485 Manolos off at a party and leave them in the host’s designated shoe area, chances are they won’t be there when it’s time to go home.

16. Furthermore, if you’re a freelance writer who spends $40,000 on shoes, you won’t have enough for a deposit on your rented apartment you want to buy and you will literally be the old woman who lived in a shoe (or shoes).

Shooting from the lip… in their own words

17. “Men in their forties are like the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle: tricky, complicated, and you’re never really sure you got the right answer.” (Carrie)

18. “Ball parks are great places to chat with your girlfriends, flirt with sportsmen and smoke and drink at two in the afternoon without judgment.” (Carrie)

19. “I’ve been dating since I was fifteen! I’m exhausted! Where is he?” (Charlotte)

20. “If he seems too good to be true – he probably is.” (Samantha)
21. “You could listen to and analyse an answering machine message for years and never know.”(Miranda)
22. “If you have an affair with your married ex-boyfriend, you will be able to reflect on it like a  Charles Dickens novel, as being both the best of times, and the worst of times.” (Carrie)
23. “Women sit around, obsessing about what went wrong, while men just say ‘alrighty’ and move on.” (Charlotte)
24. “If it’s tedious and the sex is dwindling, it must be called a relationship.” (Samantha)
25. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in email, and you prefer calling and hanging up… as Samantha tells Carrie, “Honey, you gotta get online, if only for the porn.” (Samantha gives Carrie a lesson in the new online communication)
26. “Relationships and partial lobotomies are two seemingly different ideas that might just be perfect together – like chocolate and peanut butter.” (Carrie)
27. Sometimes, a uniball bartender and a lawyer with lazy ovary can create a baby. “It’s like the Special Olympics of conception.” (Miranda)
28. “People who sit alone at Starbucks writing on their laptops are not necessarily pretentious posers. They may be people who have recently moved in with someone.” (Carrie)

29. “Nipples are HUGE right now!”(Samantha, wearing fake nipples)

 

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What did you learn from SATC?  Do you still watch it? Tell me, I’d love to know!

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?

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

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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.

 

Edited highlights: Dating advice books, tornados and cake

This time next week, Christmas will be over. I can’t believe how quickly this year has passed. Soon all will be revealed about big changes happening at The Alexcellent Life, but for now, let’s see what’s happened in December.

My mid-life crisis was exacerbated by going to Retro nightclub…

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This particular visit came complete with a Rock Lobster neck injury (thanks for nothin’ B52s) and a try-hard bathroom selfie.

The Chris Noth/Matt Preston look-a-like lurking on the scene, who we dubbed “Fat Mr.Big,” seemed quite nice, but then Lulu said to him, “Has anyone ever told you you look like Mr.Big from Sex and the City, and Matt Preston.giggle.” And then he ran away. Just as well, because he was married. As was his whole pack of wolves he was running with that night. Fat Mr.Big does not appear in any of the above photos.

I discovered these great The Ladybird book of … books. Who remembers them from childhood?

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Mid-life advice

I use to love my Ladybird book of Beauty and the Beast – the classic fairytale, when I was a child. These books contain beasts of a different kind. I spotted these little gems in the bookstore Harry Hartog. Perhaps I should actually part with some cash and pick up The Ladybird book of Dating. God knows I could use some help.

I witnessed Christmas eye-candy of the cake kind at yet another local street fair…

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Shooting stars of pasty

I tried one of the gingerbread stars because they were FREE.

In other cake news, I went into one of my favourite bakeries, Dobinsons in Canberra, when I was there on very important business recently.

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Come to me, my precious (es)

I looked, but didn’t touch these goodies. I’m saving myself for all the mince pies I’m planning on eating at Christmas.

And just so you know sweet treats aren’t the only things that float my boat…

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My friend Deb and I went to our favourite Mexican restaurant, El Topo Bondi Junction, for a pre-Christmas catch up. I said no to my favourite bunuelos de chocolate and concentrated on the delectable savoury flavours of tacos and frijoles negros with bacon, spicy chorizo, capsicum and queso fresco. And watermelon salad (sweet but refreshing).

I’ve been walking home from work (part of the way) through Darlinghurst streets, making the most of the vibe before my big lifestyle change coming up in January (more on that later)…

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I’ve been appreciating amazing Sydney views and beach days…

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And marvelling at the not so beach days…

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Crazy Sydney weather. Apparently it was an actual tornado.

I will be reporting on Christmas festivities next week.

How’s your December been so far?

 

Princess Mary and Me

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Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, aka “Our Mary” graces the cover of this week’s Woman’s Day.

Last Sunday night, I didn’t watch news reports about the Paris attacks. I watched Mary: The Making of a Princess, along with 928,999 other metro viewers. Apparently the biopic won its timeslot, outrating both Seven and Nine’s special news bulletins.

Media commentator/advertising guru Dee Madigan tweeted on Monday that there are 929,000 people who need to take a long, hard look at themselves. Well, I constantly take long hard looks at myself whether I watch fantasy-injected biopics or not.

As my irony gene is so weak, I couldn’t tell whether Dee was joking or judging. But sometimes taking in all the terrible things that happen in this world gets too much and by Sunday night I had reached my quota of brutal and horrific. I needed to escape (and yes, I am grateful I have the luxury of being able to escape by simply changing the channel).

My go-to-escape channel on Sunday was 10 (channels 11, 22, 72, 99 and 90 are also tried and tested escape routes). But on this night, I time-travelled back to early-noughties retro fun; the music, the fashion, and the lifestyle of Mary Donaldson’s young single days in Sydney.

Oh how I reminisced about Madison Avenue’s Don’t Call Me Baby and the bars of Darling Harbour in Sydney’s optimistic Olympic wake. What early noughties lifestyle/romance montage would be complete without a soundtrack of Killing Heidi and New Radicals?

Mary’s life was practically a mirror to my own in the early days of the 21st century. Apart from the dating a Danish Prince thing. Both 30ish, Aquarian brunette marketing/communications (sort of) professionals living in Sydney’s east, we both had long-distance relationships and re-located for love. She to Copenhagen, and I to Canberra.

I’m sure Mary missed the Bondi-to-Bronte as she pounded the cold Copenhagen pavements on her morning run. As I did, when I first moved to the bush captital. I remember just wanting to just run down to the beach on several occasions,  but I couldn’t. Because there was no beach. Instead, I found a bush track close to where I lived and stumbled upon a mob of about 10 kangaroos, a couple of metres away, just staring at me. All was still apart from their chewing. And I was surprised by joy.

I wasn’t Princess Mary, but I was known as “The Princess Mary of Public Affairs” in my new Canberra public service job, a title I wore like the tiara I wished I had. Mary got engaged, I got engaged. Mary studied Danish, while I studied Canberra’s own secret language, Acronym.

After weddings and first-born sons, Mary’s and my parallel pathways diverged. But that’s OK. I saw a Judy Garland quote on Facebook the other day, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, and not a second-rate version of someone else.”

Maybe if I continue taking those long hard looks at myself, as Dee Madigan suggests,  I’ll achieve that aspiration.

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Jiawei Shen’s 2005 portrait of Princess Mary hangs in The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. The Opera House designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon visible through the sheer curtain, a nod to her past and present.