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?

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.

 

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.

 

 

Beach house time-machine

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I’ve just returned from a beach holiday in the land that time forgot. And I mean that in a good way.

My friends Lulu and Mr M had invited 5-year-old Spider boy and me to spend a few days with them and their 6-year-old son, the Magician, at a rented beach house at Bawley Point on the NSW south coast.

As soon as we pulled up to the weatherboard house on stilts I was instantly taken back to the south coast of my childhood, where my parents took us on beach holidays every year. Back then in the late 70s and 80s, it was a similar rented house in Narooma, a town a bit further south.

My sister and I, who were 8 and 3 when we first started going to Narooma, would play happily around the stilts under the house, pretending we were “Carol” and “Susie” who worked in a petrol station. When we went to the beach, we were “Coral” and “Crystal”, who were mermaids.

We would stay on the beach for hours, we would go to the circus that came to town every summer, we would have pink lemonade and fish and chips at the Whale restaurant. We would go to the newsagency/gift shop in town and buy shell-covered trinkets.

But back to the present day… This house was on stilts too, expect this one was way better. It had an upstairs deck with a perfect towel/cossie-drying fence, a bird-feeder, places to sit and a dart board.  From the the kitchen/dining area, a staircase led to a roomy mezzanine lounge area with views to the ocean, which was blue most of the time we were there. There were two bedrooms in the main part of the house, and a roomy granny flat/studio downstairs.

Mezzanine

Mezzanine for lounging

I love the simplicity of holiday shacks. I love that they are so obviously decorated for the purposes of; 1. invoking a beachy vibe, and 2. helping you relax. And every room was generously peppered with obligatory beach-house objet’s de kitsch. Like this…

Just what I need in my room.. 3 angry seagulls all in a row.

Just what I need in my room.. 3 angry seagulls all in a row. One with a missing beak.

And this…

Little toilet man-candle

Little toilet man-candle with love handles

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Chillaxing is easy with 80s/90s artworks to rest your gaze upon.

And the icing on the beach house cake? The great variety of summer holiday entertainment! The book shelves were lined with trashy novels and video cassettes. Cassettes. There was a quoits set in the lounge, jigsaw puzzles and board games like Celebrity Heads. If only we had two weeks!

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Are you calling me trashy?

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We got to rewind to last century with this little collection.

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Haven’t seen this much fun since “Hey Hey It’s Saturday!”

Along with all this retro pop-cultural stimulation, I also loved the sound of waves crashing at night, the great variety of bird-calls in the morning, and the fresh, salty air. And I loved walking to the beach and not having to deal with cars and parking.

Lulu’s dad and his wife Ms B were staying in their place which was just at the end of the next beach along.  They would sometimes call in when they were out walking, or we would run into them on one of the three beaches in the area.

At Bawley Point, kids ride bikes on the road, some carrying surfboards, neighbours walk to each other’s homes for lunch, dinner, drinks on the deck. There are no fences, no gates. Kids of 8 or 9 sit on the nature strip and literally sell sea shells by the sea shore. And painted cicada shells.  People relax on their front decks in boardies and bikinis and look really… relaxed.

Fun on the deck: mind the darts!

Fun on the deck: mind the darts!

Bawley Point to me, was a combination of  the TV shows Puberty Blues (the 12-year-old long-haired grommets in wetsuits and general retro-vibe bit, not the panel-van and all they suggest bit), Neighbours (good Neighbours had become good-friends) and Home and Away (Hello, beach!).

Lulu’s dad grilled burgers for us on the back deck, the kids ran a few metres to the back of the next house along and jumped on their trampoline (cos that’s how they roll in this ‘hood). When we weren’t barbequeing, we cooked with this…

Analogue cooking machine circa 1980s.

Analogue cooking machine circa 1980s

We learnt how to play boules and I was relaxed enough to actually get myself into my swimmers and go into the surf! I even sunbaked for a few minutes.

Hiding the boules balls mid-game on the neighbours trampoline amused them no end

Hiding the boules balls mid-game on the neighbours trampoline amused them no end.

And there were millions of peaches…

Peaches for me.

Peaches for me

One afternoon, Lulu and I managed to escape to a winery. So there was millions of grapes too…

bought some wine

Tasted some wine. Bought some.

And at the vineyard, there was deer frolicking in a woodland glade. Seriously.

There was frolicking but they stopped as soon as I took the picture.

There was frolicking but they stopped to stare at me as soon as I took the picture.

The only things that pulled us out of 70s/80s-style living was the presence of our smartphones/tablets, and a DVD player. So don’t worry, just in case you thought there was too much retro-fun and outdoorsy stuff for the kids, they had plenty of screen time too.

For example: “Come on kids, how about a fun game of charades. Or what about quoits?”

“No! Hotel Transylvania!” (animated Adam Sandler movie)

And later… “Come on kids, do you want to play charades? What about quoits?

“No, Leps World!” (some game played on a smartphone/tablet).

Trying to get the kids to go to bed before 9pm the night before we had to be up early?

“Charades!” they excitedly suggested.

They will try anything to not go to bed.

Quoits anyone? Anyone?

Quoits anyone? Anyone?

It wasn't all outdoorsy-fun...

It wasn’t all outdoorsy-fun…

Since we didn’t watch the news while we were away, the only other thing that pulled us out of last century was an annoying, yet stressful episode of Grey’s Anatomy one night. What were we thinking? We could have been watching this…

It has surfing in it, so would've enhanced the holiday vibe

It has surfing in it, so would’ve enhanced our relaxed holiday vibe, right?

But at least we did get to watch this classic again…

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A classic of my teen years

So here’s to beach holidays with a nostalgic feel – and the unbeatable combination of peaches, beaches, bird-calls and retro movies.

And a big thanks to Lulu, Mr M and family for a refreshing and fun holiday!

What are your favourite summer holiday memories?

Oh, You Beautiful Doll

Naked ambition: Kewpies hussle for prime position in the barrel.

Don’t call me Baby.

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Cheaper by the dozen: A Brave New World of Kewpies.

I’ve always loved Kewpie dolls. Do you remember those big-eyed, baby-faced dolls with plastic pin-curls spray painted gold? They were usually wearing a pink or purple piece of tulle fashioned as a tu-tu, and I have a vague memory of plastic and glitter fairy wings attached to their little backs. And they were on a stick.

Reportedly created by poet/artist Rose O’Neill in the early 20th century, Kewpie dolls were named so because of the resemblance to the Roman god, Cupid – you know, the winged baby with the bow and arrow? Cute!

I recently went to an antique fair at Moore Park’s Enterainment Quarter and came across a stall called Black Sheep, with old doors, old kitchenware and other bric-a-brac. And there before me were several glass jars, filled with Kewpie dolls, little plastic people in some giant alien experiment. There were also wooden barrels of Kewpies. It looked great, if a little bit bizarre. Even my five-year-old Spider Boy, an action-hero by nature, was thrilled with the collection. He had never seen a Kewpie before, as the ones I had collected every year at the Sydney Royal Easter Show throughout the 1980s, are long gone.

“Oh Look! LOOK at the Kewpie dolls!” I said in awe to my sister, Senorita Margarita and Spider Boy.

“Please Mum! Please can I have a Poopie doll?! Where does the Poopie come out?” asked Spider Boy excitedly.

“Maybe later, let’s see what else there is here,” I told him.

We circled the fair about three times. Past the chairs Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan sat in during filming of The Great Gatsby. Well I couldn’t buy those, so I went back for a $10 Kewpie. I bought her for Spider Boy. He was excited. He came home and showed Granny. Then the naked Kewpie/Poopie was stuffed back in her paper bag for days until I pulled her out again.

“Look, here’s your Kewpie Doll,” I waved her at Spider Boy.

Spider Boy pulled a face and uttered some kind of expression of distaste. “I don’t want it, I don’t like it.”

“But why don’t you like the Poopie doll anymore?”

“Because she’s old…  and anyway, she’s a baby!” he said with passionate five-year-old disgust.

I take it by “old”, he meant vintage. But oh, she’s got the cutest little baby face!

I’m ready for my close-up.