Share BnB – the Caring Economy

Recognise me? Not really, but you get the drift

I grew up in post-war London in a small flat just up the road from Baker Street – great spot, but pretty crowded for a family of five. However, considering the number of grassed over bombed sites and streets of houses with sudden gaps like missing teeth, the parents were glad to get it. And they loved it. My dad could walk across the park to work at the BBC, up to the cricket at Lords, and best of all over the road to the Gloucester Arms for lots of convivial company. And Mum was more than happy to join him.

Somehow, they ended up offering a bed to one of their drinking buddies who – after being chucked out by his (third) wife came to stay the night, and stayed seven weeks! On the sofa in our sitting room! And he wasn’t a shrinking presence. He was a large red-haired actor called Howard Marion-Crawford, widely known as “Boney” apparently because of his mannerism of placing his arm across his chest, resting in his jacket a la Napoleon Bonaparte. He was notable also for his bushy moustache and very British demeanour, that had him popping up in any number of films as the actor who,often played “blusterers”, “old duffers” and upper class military types, appearing as guest performer in television programmes like The Avengers, and three roles with Patrick McGoohan in the television series Danger Man: the 1964 episodes “No Marks for Servility” and “Yesterday’s Enemies” and the 1965 episode “English Lady Takes Lodgers.”#

That’s from his Wikipedia entry, and in our memories he’s fixed as comic episode from our childhood. He liked to sleep late, and didn’t appreciate three little kids wanting to play. On one occasion he threw us a ten-shilling note (a fortune in those days) and bellowed at us to go out to the cinema. One other memory springs to mind…a piece of cabbage that – unbeknownst to him – lodged in his moustache, and was the cause of much hilarity. Well we didn’t have TV, so were easily amused.

The reason I have cause to remember our larger than life visitor is because we’ve recently made a foray (armed with some freshly laundered towels, and fistful of miracle microfibre cloths) into the world of Air BnB, and that was to be the topic of this blog. I was planning on making some comic comparisons between the large grunting presence in our sitting room and the charming folk that we have hosted from a discreet distance in our downstairs area.

But then I started Googling our visitor, and in that mix of nosiness and intrigue that enables us to waste so many hours, I began to piece together the parts of a life that – far from being a comic turn for us – held the stuff of tragedy. Once I joined the dots and calculated some dates, I find it less surprising that he needed a bed for seven weeks, and have to acknowledge my parents’ generosity in sharing their tiny flat with him. This was surely the original spirit of Air BnB…the sharing economy before it became cool. But in this case, no money changed hands (other than the occasional ten bob to get rid of the pesky kids)

‘Boney’ Crawford was born in 1914 into an illustrious family. His great grandfather Thomas Crawford was a noted sculptor, of among other works, ‘Armed Freedom’ on top of the Capitol in Washington DC. His grandfather Francis Marion-Crawford was a well-known novelist, and his father Harold, had a distinguished career in the Irish Guards. As well, he moved in luminary circles. At RADA, his classmates included Vivien Leigh, Ida Lupino, Anthony Quayle, and Trevor Howard, and apparently he numbered Winston Churchill among his friends.

“Sometimes, in the Atlee years, Howard would journey out to Chartwell for an afternoon playing chess with Churchill, outdoors on a table set up on the front lawn.”* He had two sons. – Harold, from his first marriage, and Francis from his second marriage to the distinguished actress Mary Wimbush.

But beneath this rather privileged life, there were many difficulties. It seems that the Marion-Crawford men are blighted by the tragedy of early death. Howard’s grandfather Francis died at fifty-four leaving his son Harold fatherless at nine. No sooner had Harold married and brought Howard into the world than he was killed by a grenade in 1915 – aged twenty seven! So Howard never knew his father. It’s a loss no amount of posh schooling can make up for. Howard himself served in World War 2 and was invalided out of his father’s regiment with a serious leg injury that caused him lifelong pain. He then volunteered for the RAF and served as a navigator.

And although it seemed to us he was always popping up on the telly, his long career in film and TV and radio proved unreliable, and not especially lucrative. This was despite various awards, critical acclaim for his role as Dr Watson to Ronald Howard’s Sherlock Holmes, a well-known cameo in Davis Lean’s epic ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, and ‘ the triumph of his life when he performed the title rôle in the Agamemnon of Æschylus. Paired with Margaret Rawlings as Clytemnestra, the performance was so powerful that the BBC Transcription Service decided to release it as a three-disc recording, which, it is sad to write, is almost impossible to find.”* So when he came to us, he was clearly between jobs, had two young sons to support, and was probably in pain, which no doubt contributed to his consumption of alcohol. The men of that generation were notorious for self-medication.

In a little over ten years he too would suffer an early death. On November 23rd 1969 It seems he had had a few drinks, and a couple of sleeping pills, and the mix had a pernicious outcome, causing him to choke in the night. He was fifty-five, and broke. ‘He had inherited none of the very considerable fortune left by his grandfather, and had done little but subsist during his thirty-four-year career in radio, television, and film. At his death, his whole monetary worth was only one thousand six hundred and nine pounds, all of which had been consumed swiftly in expenses after his death. His estate, as The Times put it, had a “net value nil.”*

Not so funny after all!

Clearly not a life of nil value though. By all accounts he was a lively and amusing friend and a fine talent, and his life and death still have a few things to teach us:

  • We had pretty much reduced this man to an amusing anecdote from our ‘bohemian’ childhood. We are all entitled to our own version of our lives, our memories and the people in them. But in order not to diminish those people, we need to be open to other versions of the same events, and be prepared to adjust and consider that ours is not the only truth.
  • The wonderful Tim Winton, in his recent interview with Geraldine Doogue, on Compass (ABC), said that in order to live an ethical life we need imagination. We need to be able to put ourselves in the place of others in order to empathise and communicate. This is what makes a compassionate community. (I’m paraphrasing here…check it out, it’s a great conversation) I’m with you (and Atticus Finch), Tim!
  • I’m so sorry I didn’t talk more to my parents about their lives and history and family and the people they knew. It’s too late for us, and I’d give anything to be able to chat to Mum and Dad and ask them about so many things…and to say well done for taking in your friend, at a time when you didn’t have a great deal yourselves.

    Our family – Christmas 1957 (?)

  • Lastly, you young’uns, take heed! Talk to your folks. If they aren’t famous, Google won’t help you after they’ve gone!

# Wikipedia

*These are all extracts from an excellent and detailed account of the life of Howard Marion-Crawford, but I’ve searched and searched and cannot find it again to acknowledge it. Sorry!


Rusk Assessment

Phew! Finally, we’ve moved into the house we’ve been imagining for 30 years. And it’s lovely – all new, all clean, and best of all, clutter-free! Thank you, Lewis the fantastic carpenter and clutter-buster, who built us hundreds of drawers/cupboards/ built-ins/walk –ins/ plug-ins and slidey bins that have us as close to minimalist as we’re ever likely to be.

But not for long.

Enter our granddaughter Matilda Florence Byng and her lovely parents, trailing the vast paraphernalia of stuff required to deal with a baby’s hunger, thirst, tiredness, cold, heat,boredom, snot, vomit, plops, and anything else that mess-croppedisn’t going to help her get into Oxford. (Well you can’t start these things too early). And it’s messy. But somehow a pile of miniscule vests, a cereal- encrusted bib or a little coloured brick that gouges a chunk of skin from the unwary foot, are all so cute!

Nevertheless when she leaves, we like having our clean house back – for about ten minutes! Less, actually, before I find myself all teary when I come across a packet of her special organic rusksrusks-cropped – the signature snack for our favourite dribbly person – trailed around the house with her particular pals, Pinkie the pink thing and Kevin the koala. And suddenly we find ourselves with a big Tildy-shaped hole in our lives that we long to fill with all that wonderful mess, tedium, vigilance and joy that a gorgeous little person creates effortlessly. I’ve always thought a clean house was overrated, now I know why.




We didn’t have long to wait before we were reunited for her first birthday celebration in London. It’s a trip we’ve made at least forty times before, so why do I suddenly feel so anxious? It’s all here – the family, the old friends, the dulcet articulate drone of Radio 4, the shops, the theatres, the streets and buses and tubes we’ve been hopping on and off since childhood. And maybe because Tildy is our tangible, and precious reminder that so much is set down early in life, I’ve been thinking about that childhood.

Freedom to roam the streets, taking ourselves to and from school, risking our lives on dodgy playground equipment with no parents hovering, are all gifts we didn’t value at the time. We were allowed to get on with it, and I can see now, that if you’ve just come slidethrough a world war, letting your kid hurtle down a slide the size of Nelson’s column, was the least of your worries. Nevertheless, I don’t remember feeling scared of my world, and I’m the person who invented risk aversion.

I do get it, that the golden era of free university, a bag of chips for sixpence,fries a month in Greece for twenty quid, and a house that we didn’t have to mortgage our souls for, is long gone. And was it really that golden? I remember pubs so smoky you couldn’t see who you were talking to (just as well really), having to go down the street to make a phone call, living in flats with no central heating,  no fitted carpets and – ikeaunimaginably – no IKEA furniture or Netflix! But there were reassuring, if dreary certainties: a job for life with a gold watch and a pension if you stuck it out, a religion that promised you a spot in heaven if you did all those Novenas, and the knowledge that tomorrow would be pretty much like today…just a bit duller.

This generation has to write its own script – aided and abetted by Messrs Jobs and Gates and Zuckerberg, who may or may not have equipped them for the bumpy ride on the Globalisation/Brexit/Trump juggernaut through a warming planet into a sharing economy, armed with a smart phone and a flexible take on each new scary twist technology throws at them. nokia-3310And while there’s no way they want to go back even to the Nokia 3310, never mind the shared phone box in the street, what kind of world is our lovely little bub going to inherit?

Louis MacNeice – well known Irish poet (and friend and colleague of my lesser known  dad) – must have been having the same wake-up-in-the-night scary thoughts about the future for children yet unborn, when he wrote these lines in his sombre and frightening poem ‘Prayer Before Birth’*

‘That the human race may with tall walls wall me…

Would freeze my humanity…

Would make me into a cog in a machine…

Would blow me like thistledown hither and thither…’ (Oh no, poor Matilda!)

He wrote this poem during World War 2, and it seems like a highly appropriate response to all that carnage and hopelessness. But then it dawned on me that the generation for  whom he held such fears, was mine! And only a few years after all that horror, we just strode on through perfectly OK lives with scarcely a backward glance. Indeed as he hoped, in his last verse, the earth:

‘Provide[d] me
 with water to dandle me,

Grass to grow for me,

Trees to talk 
to me,

Sky to sing to me,

Birds and a white light
 in the back of my mind to guide me.’

So clearly there’s no point in viewing the future through my nanna-shaped lens, so badly distorted by worry and bewilderment. Hell, I don’t even have a smart phone, so how would I know how it all works! parot-3-200x150What I do have is the weight in my arms of a fragrant little person pointing with equal delight at the jeweled bright Queensland parrots, or the soft, dun coloured London sparrow-1sparrows…she’s not fussy…everything is a complete delight to her. And together with trusty friends Pinkie and Kevin, her joy in the adventure of her life is what will inspire us all.


  • These are just random extracts from this poem. The full version is very powerful, and a bit scary. Nevertheless I commend it to you (maybe with a strong cup of tea…or gin.)

A place to Mungindi for (apologies for the terrible pun!)


In April I was able briefly to swell the population of Mungindi (NSW and QLD) from 1,110 to 1,111. It happened when the gals from the local book group wanted to discuss my book (Treading Water – shameless plug), and invited me to join their next meeting. ‘What’s that?’ I exclaimed to my friends George and Jane, who issued the invite. ‘They want to read my book, and they only live 500 kilometres away? I’m there!’

Fresh from hob-nobbing with the Clapham trendies in London, I knew it would be different, and it is. It’s hotter and drier and less crowded than London, but Mungindi can give Clapham a run for its uber-trendy money. And where better to start than in that that barometer of cool – the coffee shop? Does that pass muster? (note rural metaphor) Let’s see, does it have:

  • A clever pun for a name? Yup
  • Authentic industrial chic? Definitely
  • Great coffee? absolutely
  • Welcoming/familiar /home from home/ stay as long as you like? (You know, like in the Friends’ coffee shop Central Perk) Oh yes!
  • Fashionable clientele? Well, we did bump into a well-known local artist and cotton farmer, who was wearing a pair of shoes I considered mugging her for. But if ‘active wear’ is all the go in the coffee shops around Clapham, they might find themselves out-chic-ed by that tall willowy gal looking amazing in jeans and white shirt. Her fashion choice has to accommodate running her house with four kids and a nanny, managing her and hubby’s large business enterprise, and maybe taking the helicopter to Wollongong later! I suppose that might just qualify as active wear.

daily grind

So yes, The coffee shop gets a big tick.

What about accommodation? Well, if you’re as lucky as I you’ll be welcomed into the pages of Vogue Living, all due to the design flair and enterprise of Anna, Jane’s multi-talented daughter.

Jane:Annabrekkie MungAnd since they are both foodies from way back, the cuisine got lots of stars from me (to be honest, I lost count after the third -or was it fourth – G&T). As for the guest wing (attached to the vast machinery shed) it’s so gorgeous, I wanted to live there foreverguest room

So all this augured very well for the Book Group. I’m a bit of a BG veteran…six at last count, and still active in three of them, but this one was a bit special. For starters you just couldn’t live in this community if you were daunted by distance, and I couldn’t begin to calculate the number of miles driven by everyone in order to be at the meeting. But once welcomed into Sally’s spacious and gracious home, they were there to laugh, talk, share experiences and party! It’s an all day frock up, morning tea, lunch, afternoon drinks affair. And they were so appreciative that I had come all that way to talk about the book. They have to be joking! I wouldn’t have missed it for anything…it was quite wonderful, as you can see. And can you spot the one who had to leave the lunch a little early to drive 80 kms to supervise the sheep mustering? She’s the one in the active wear!

book group

Some time in the afternoon a crowd of children wandered in for after-school snacks and a swim in the pool. Someone had picked them up from the bus and delivered them all safely – just part of this far-flung village raising its children together. Earlier in the day I had met many of them all in their all age classroom at the local school. I was immediately reminded of another small place a mere 13,000 ks away and about 20 degrees cooler, which happens to have the best education system in the world!

*William Doyle, Fulbright scholar and a lecturer on media and education at the University of Eastern Finland was advised by his Harvard professor to “learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools…” Following his recommendation, he enrolled his seven-year-old son in a primary school in Joensuu. Finland, “which is about as far east as you can go in the European Union.” What he discovered is also there for all to see at St Josephs Primary – which is about as far west as you can go in one day in Queensland! Let’s see…

  • “Most children walk or bike to school, even the youngest.” Yup
  • “Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning.” Definitely
  • “Children are assessed every day, through direct observation, check-ins and quizzes by the highest-quality ‘personalised learning device’ ever created – flesh-and-blood teachers.” Absolutely!
  • “In class, children are allowed to have fun, giggle and daydream from time to time. Finns put into practice the cultural mantras I heard over and over: ‘Let children be children,’ ‘The work of a child is to play,’ and ‘Children learn best through play.’ Oh yes!
  • “The emotional climate of the typical classroom is warm, safe, respectful and highly supportive in a classroom atmosphere of safety, collaboration, warmth and respect for children as cherished individuals.” Right on!
  • “As a visiting Chinese student observed: ‘here, you feel like you’re part of a really nice family.’” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Most of the kids will go to boarding school in the city, but what resilience and sense of themselves and their place in their community they take with them. I used to work in a school that had a boarding strand. So a simple question like what did you do on the holidays? Opened up a whole new world for us all. The town mice, who thought wandering round the shopping centre looking for the right nail polish and the hot boys, was good fun, had to concede that their country cousins had something pretty special going on. Amid the cotton chipping, lamb rearing, mustering, harvesting etc etc which these gals did routinely, their stories told of community, hard work, wonderful family times (that includes their horses, dogs, and all manner of four legged and feathered creatures), more hard work, resilience, yet more hard work and a long treasured sense of belonging to the country they love.

Internet service in Mungindi might be dodgy at times but communication is fantastic, not to mention all age learning, talking to each other, being accountable and important in your group, active community work through all sectors of the town, and mutual support. These are the offers made by the country. Ooh…where have I heard that before…is it Finland?




Thrills and Spills

tilda 5Thrilling is not a word I’d use to describe our life at the moment. Comfortable, yes. And predictable. We know we won’t be running the New York Marathon any time soon, I’ll never be size 8 again, and there will definitely be a re-run of ‘Midsomer Murders’ some time in the next 24 hours.


So predictable is a bit dull, but it’s pleasant. We might cruise tranquilly through the specials at Aldi, or have morning tea at the seniors film club, go to choir practice, or play golf…fortunate indeed to be able to drift peacefully into our sunset years. The closest we get to thrilling is when Midsomer Murders shows an episode we haven’t seen before. Or maybe we just can’t remember.

midsomer murders

But all that changed at 4.35 pm on Thursday 21st January at St Thomas’ Hospital. Within sight of Big Ben and the London Eye and probably within the sound of Bow Bells – if they were dinging especially loudly – our first grandchild, Matilda Florence (Mo Flo* to her friends) arrived.

big ben

Our first sighting was on Skype, but within 24 hours we had in our arms the soft weight and heft and smell of this brand new person. It is nothing short of astonishing. A couple of days before, she was a tidy bump that twisted and flexed, but didn’t stop her mum going to the movies or eating a birthday banoffee cake (made with mango – Queensland style). But now! This wriggly bundle of life with the dark eyes and rosebud lips is so emphatically here! She commands us all to smile and coo and repeat to each other how beautiful she is. And she is.

thea banoffeetilda skype

OK, arguably no more beautiful than all the other babies, but try telling that to all the people grinning stupidly around her. She is beautiful because she’s the next bit of our families – those little houses of hope we constructed in the face of all the crap that life might rain on us (not literally, we hope). Thank goodness we don’t know this when we embark with such blithe optimism on the business of rearing new people out of love and hope. And thank goodness we don’t know how hard it will be to give ourselves over to these new people…to watch and fret over their every move, to minister blindly to their every need, even when we are only guessing what that need is.

Tilda 4

So that’s part of the thrill – the sheer optimism of a new baby. But there is more to it. Trouble is, every time you try to explain it, you end up in clichés, because it’s the most common thing in the world. It has to be, or we wouldn’t have a world, so why is it so special when it happens to you? That’s the paradox – it’s unique and commonplace, profound and ordinary. It’s so huge it connects you with the grand universal story of humankind and yet all these unexceptional people have managed it…even idiots like your own parents!

Tilda me and Bob

But there are a few special thrills for grandparents:

  • You get to relive and remember when it was you that was suddenly responsible for this other life…the whole sweet awfulness of it all.
  • Airbrushed by time, you realize what a remarkable job you did getting them to sleep, feed and poo unscathed. (That’s them. You were extremely scathed at the time).
  • You get to say profound things like, ‘I think it’s wind,’ and people listen to you as if you know stuff.
  • And it’s your baby with a baby of her/his own. We can’t help taking some vicarious pride. Job done, back patted. We must have done something right. (Certainly not tight swaddling…I still can’t manage that.)

tilda and me

And as for that old chestnut, ‘the best thing about grandchildren is that you can give them back.’ Nup, that’s not it. Surely the best thing about the degree of separation is that you feel the same ridiculous love for this little person as you did for your own, but because it’s no longer you in that hormonal haze of exhaustion and exhilaration, you can enjoy the marvel of it, and savour it, think about it, gaze at the baby and later at the pictures (all 529 of them) with a bit of time to enjoy it. Not too much savouring went on first time around. More like saving – your life – before you go bonkers.

Thea, Si and Matilda

Happy two-month birthday Matilda – the thrill that keeps on thrilling!

*Can’t claim the name…that was coined by that well known wit Dr Tim Dark.



Resolution revolution

resolutions 2Last New Year’s Eve, I had a brilliant idea. We’d write down three resolutions, put them in an envelope, then take them out at the same time next year and check them. I’m not sure what I thought would happen then. I suppose we’d either feel new yearsridiculously smug, or be seething with self – loathing, neither of which are especially appealing. Anyway as you might imagine, it didn’t turn out as planned. Our first mistake was resolving to do this before a few glasses of bubbles. Predictably, by the time the fireworks fired, the clock struck twelve, Auld Lang was signed, no one could be arsed to find a bit of paper and a pen so we decided to do it in the morning!

Given that my first big resolution was to stop procrastinating it wasn’t a promising start to 2016. But my second resolution – to stop wasting time – fared a bit better. At least we hadn’t wasted valuable time writing down fragile promises to ourselves. And that’s when it dawned on me. Stop wasting time making resolutions! If you really wanted to do it, you would! You don’t waste time writing down the things you really want to do, you just do them. If I made mine into a list it would go something like this:

  • Eat some chocolatechocolate
  • Have a drink
  • Watch some telly
  • Walk on the beach
  • Cook something nice for dinner
  • Have some friends over
  • Practise my choir music
  • Read my booktyping
  • Skype the kids
  • Write something
  • Email friends



Whereas the resolutions go more like this:

  • Lose weight
  • Clean the house
  • Do tummy crunches
  • Start Yoga
  • Clean up and organize all my emails since 1998

But hang on, would I be a better person if I’d achieved the latter and stopped doing the former? I’d be thinner, more toned and I’d have a clean house and a clean computer. But was the old chocolate-munching, beach-walking, offspring-skyping me so bad? That word RE-SOLUTION is basically an attempt to keep solving the same problems…over and over. So maybe it’s time to de-problemmatise my inability to be someone else, and just be me.

And this latest blog post is incontrovertible evidence of the uselessness of resolutions. I started it weeks and weeks ago and we’re already half way through the season of Lent, just in time for another bout of self-flagellation about my shortcomings! So this year I’ve decided to give up feeling inadequate, and just try to do what I like to do, really well.

pink-diaryFor a start I like – more like a compulsion really – to mark the passage of time with some kind of record-keeping. It’s an attempt, I suppose, to make some meaning out of my days on the planet, and to that end I’ve kept a diary since about 1962. Clearly it was part of my make-up long before ‘time’s winged chariot’ went into the warp speed it is now.

So, since we have spent these last three months in London, I decided I’d post something quirky or interesting on Facebook every day. How easy it would be! London provides endless inspiration, and I have my lovely new ipad mini so I can click and post seamlessly. And it was fine for the first few days…a pink wintry sky or a gleaming red bus was enough to intrigue my Facebook friends (all 37 of them).

red sky


me and matilda 2But now – on day 70 – it’s dominating my entire life! I’ve scoured the streets and sky, hung out of train windows, and trespassed in people’s gardens in the quest for some post-able event. I’ve had to shuffle the days, make stuff up, perv on unsuspecting tube travelers, and set my family up in all manner of poses (OK, that one with the Dalek was a bit much.) diaryOnly occasionally have I resorted to granny-bragging, even though our new granddaughter – the main reason for our visit – is completely adorable. But, with one week to go, I’ve pretty much done it. And I have to say it feels OK to set a goal and fulfil it. But more than that I now have a photo-record of a lovely time in our lives – daleks and all.

And in a curious Mathematical equation, which you probably won’t find in the pages of Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (because you won’t be looking…and neither did I!) the cumulative effect is greater than the sum of its little parts. It’s something to do with the links and connections, and the blithe ignorance of the future that is in a daily post. After a while a pattern emerges of what a period of a life looks like. It’s a bit like a patchwork quilt. The pieces on their own are unremarkable, but brought together and chucked on the bed…it looks terrific. And – bonus – it will warm you on a cold night.

patchwork quilt





The Twelve Nays of Christmas

Photo on 2014-12-06 at 12.12 Christmas…the season of unalloyed joy and festive fervour…so why do I find myself huddled shakily over the steering wheel in the bowels of a shopping centre the size of a small city? (Clearly it’s not called Shoppingtown for nothing). Well for a start I managed to find a park, but that took so much energy I’m not sure I have the fortitude to launch myself on the dazzling delights of decadence. shopping-mall-center decorated-for-christmas-shopping-time-with-glistening-lights-and-trees What is wrong with me? Everyone else loves it… and what’s not to love? As you might have imagined I’m about to tell you. So in synergy with that famous song of the season I’m offering you the twelve “nays” of Christmas, (with a few “yays” added in the interest of balance):  

(1) Those Christmas newsletters!. Finding out that your daughter is studying at the Sorbonne, and your son has won the Nobel Prize, is not helping. Neither is the news of your world trip, during which you sailed a yacht round the Med, had arvo tea with the Obamas, and built a school in an African village. newsletter cartoon That doesn’t mean I won’t be cobbling together my usual airbrushed version of life with the Oakleys. This is a rant, so don’t expect consistency.

(2) The gifts! How many times to we unwrap a parcel of disappointment? The queues at the refunds desk on Boxing Day attest to that. unwanted giftOne memorable year our son Tom, expecting some trendy piece of kit from his sister in London, had to command all his acting ability to look delighted at receiving a toilet in Africa. Actually, it turned out to be the gift that kept on giving, because he was able to recycle it in his comedy routine, telling the audience he kept getting phone calls from someone in The Gambia asking him kindly to put the seat down.

(3) The Goop Gift Guide! I don’t mean to single you out but it’s too tempting because you have gathered in one supremely tasteful place, all the snobberies and insecurities triggered by this time of year. Is my gift good enough? Does it demonstrate my generosity/good taste/utter coolness? Let’s see…would she like the gold safety pin for $1,995? Or maybe Le Cut Off Short in Blanc (!) at $185…mmm, can’t afford that but wait, there’s the Jasmine Candle for Inner Light and Joy at a mere $68! anita-ko-safety-pin_product2_largeframe-ex-le-cut-off-blanc_product2_b164b829-6695-452b-a4ad-887a90512492_large

Sorry, Gwynneth, I may have to consciously uncouple from your blog even though I’ve had to split an infinitive to get there. But as an antidote, you can check out the Mulberry Christmas 2014 ad and have a larf about it all.

(4) It’s all about the kids! Well if that’s the raison d’etre for the Lalaloopsy Babies Daiper Surprise Blossom Flowerpot Doll, whose claim to fame is that she “magically poops charms,” which can be gathered on a bracelet, and which retails for a mere $79.99, surely we are at the end of civilization as we know it. daiper surprise And what’s the message for young girls…changing nappies will offer you all sorts of surprises? Well, I can attest to that, but hang them on my wrist? I don’t think so. But actually my inner Scrooge will never destroy the childhood magic, the sparkly lights, the alluring packages, the pitch of excitement that as adults we can never access again except vicariously through the kids’ sense of wonder.  

(5) Carols in October! We wish you a Merry Christmas! Nice try, but actually, you don’t, you just wish to prolong buying frenzy season by a couple of months, and make us so sick of the tunes, we’ll buy anything just to get out of there. A-christmas-carol1 It’s just fortunate that these carols have such beautiful melodies, that communities world-wide from St Martin in the Fields to the Noosa Chorale (shameless promotion…I’ve just joined!)* revisit them every year, and really do bring Joy to the World.

(6) Tree lights! How many marriages have foundered while trying to locate the rogue bulb that renders all the others useless? But hey, what a magical glow they spread through the house when they go on…and off…and on…and off. ChristmasLights (7) Santa! Sorry, old geezer in red suit doesn’t do it for me…never has. FatherChristmas  (8) Hi-jacking a Christian festival in order to make a buck! Not sure Jesus would have been pestering Mary and Joseph for the latest edition of Grand Theft Auto. But the same spirit inspires people to serve Christmas dinner at a homeless shelter, or sing Silent Night and play football in No Man’s Land. Clearly this is complicated.

soldiers trucefootball match

(9) Loneliness audit! Like it or not, Christmas is when we’re all expected to be able to display what we’ve gathered in our lives. Perfect strangers will feel free to interrogate us, “What are you doing for Christmas?” All very well to say it’s just another day but no one asks you in the supermarket what you’re doing next Thursday unless it’s Christmas. That’s what I’d call an unintended consequence: when a cheery greeting make you feel like crap.

(10) Family! And while we’re on a downer, we should acknowledge that Christmas is often a time of increased family tensions, sometimes with tragic consequences. If you feel un-Christmassy because you want to murder Great Uncle Harold, seems you’re not alone. The explosive combination of old wounds, alcohol and disappointment sees a seasonal spike in family violence every year.a_christmas_carol family But for most of us the national excuse to gather in family groups creates far more joy than sorrow. For most families, the worst thing that happens is a mad dash on Christmas Day from in-laws to out-laws, making sure that all the Nanas and Grandpas and second cousins aren’t left out. This can involve consuming a year’s food in one day, but at least you got to pull a cracker with Great Aunt Gertie, which brings me to:

(11) The food! So much of it! And for someone with my culinary ineptitude, so much pressure! Sebastian Barry said that motherhood makes heroes out of women*, but I reckon producing all that Christmas food comes a close second. And don’t get me started on the booze. Seriously, don’t or I’ll forget to turn the oven on…again.elf cooking (12) The telly! The term Christmas Special seems an oxymoron to me. Exactly what is so special about watching the toffs of Downton Abbey scoffing peacocks tongues in aspic, courtesy of their hordes of below stairs slaves, while I’m busy trying to produce something remotely edible for my lot? The last thing I need is Lord and Lady Creepy-Crawley patronising the peasants, or Lady Mary making my best frock look dowdy! _downton_abbey_christmas_1 But later, back at Oakley Towers around five o’clock …the washing up is stowed, dad is snoring gently, supper is sorted (for the next three weeks!) Kids are bickering amiably amid a mountain of toys. Oh all right, just one more slice of Christmas cake and it’s time to watch Jimmy Stuart bumble his decent way through a cruel world to discover It’s a Wonderful Life. And for any of us lucky enough to be enclosed in a charmed circle of love, shelter and food …it really is. its-a-wonderful-life

*If you’re in the area, make sure you come along to the Noosa Chorale’s Christmas Wassail Sat 20th and Sun 21st December at 7.30. You’ll hear Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia, lots of your favourite carols, and the remarkable young cellist Louise King, while you make merry with mince pies, a cheese platter and a few trips to the bar. Bookings:

*Sebastian Barry A Long, Long Way

*Cartoon drawn by Fran and the rights paid for at by moi!

Keep calm and try again…and again. Bureaucracy for the bewildered.

OK…these are the twilight years, bathed in sunlight, time to relax, see friends, play golf, learn a language etc etc…but before I can start this halcyon phase, I just have to do the tax, let’s see….

Xmas letter photo

I just need to retrieve last year’s online tax account. Oh goody! It’s been made really easy for us now. All we have to do is log on to myGov. How lovely…my very own Gov, and all they need is my email. No probs. What’s that? Rejected? Oh well, there must be some mistake. I’ll try again. Nope. And I can’t do it again, because three strikes and you’re banned from ever darkening these doors again.

Photo on 2014-11-10 at 10.40

All right, I’ll get myself a brand new email. Still calm and confident…this won’t take long. I go to Yahoo, only to be inundated with suggestions about how my life will be immeasurably enhanced by getting this app, and signing on to that site, not to mention being gifted with a new bright purple advert every time I log on. I negotiate my way between the pop-ups and the drop downs, until I find something that stays on screen long enough to set up my new email. Then, I offer what I consider perfectly nice usernames. Babaam! Reject, reject, reject. I’m trying hard not to take it personally, until finally I find one that works. Phew! Now where was I? Oh yes, my password. DON’T use birthdays DON’T use the same ones as you’ve used before, DON’T do anything that might alert an evil cyber person who will come in and rob you blind. In other words, DON’T use anything familiar. OK done that. What was it again? Oops, I can’t remember, and my three tries are used up. Deep breathing…find a paper bag. OK do it all again. I now have three email addresses, that’s three opportunities to be offered penis enlargement, but at least this time I WROTE IT ALL DOWN.

Actually, I do write things down, much to the amusement of our kids who find it quaint and cumbersome until they put their phones through the wash/drop them down the toilet and/or leave them on top of the car.

phone down the looCell-phone-washing-machinephone on car roof

And I used to feel very smug when they’d call me in a panic for someone’s address/email/ phone number and I’d bring out my faithful little blue book. But such hubris was never going to go unpunished, neither was my cunning plan of keeping the book in my bag, so it was always available to me. Guess what? That made it equally available to the fellow that broke in and stole it.

blue notebook


And with it, everyone I know: their addresses and phone numbers, emails and birthdays, the names of their kids and grandkids. OK that was retrievable. But not so the pages of hieroglyphics in the back, on which were encrypted the necessary information for every single transaction I might ever wish to make.

Thief Thank you, Mr tea-leaf for running off with my entire life. I think of you every time I want to book a train/plane/theatre ticket/car/trip to the psychiatrist, order a book or a crate of gin, verify a payment, check that it really did cost that heinous amount, access a bank account to find the money, pay to keep the lights on or to stay insured, watch the super fund being less than super, or have a bet on the favourite in the last race, download anything on to the Mac or log in to any government agency, and generally be a functioning citizen of the modern age. Just about every other day I have to re-establish my identity, and thanks to our security phobic world I now suffer from the medical condition known as Multiple Username Disorder (MUD for short). No known cure, just more hieroglyphics.

OK I digress…probably a mistake, when I have only just started to get acquainted with myGov, and still have to wrestle with tax-speak. If anyone can explain in words of one syllable what non-concessional super contributions are, or allocated surplus contribution amount, please do. Actually, they explain that one. It’s an amount that is allocated from a regulated super fund surplus, by a trustee, to meet an employer’s liability to make contributions. Now, I can read…in fact it was usually a prerequisite for being hired as an English teacher, but Beowulf in the original has nothing on that for impenetrability. And it doesn’t even tell a story! No plot, no characters, just circular gobbledygook that makes me feel stupid. So I give in, and open the yellow pages and look up tax accountants. (I know, I know, no one’s in the yellow pages any more, in fact yellow is an appropriate colour for pages that are aged and faded into disuse – I know how they feel.)


So I leave it for now because I have to go to Centrelink to re-instate my Seniors Card. This is serious sh#t…not just cheap movies or $1 off a choc top. Oh no, this brings doctors, scans, X-rays and drugs into affordable territory. But before I can attend to my crumbly bones or gnarly hands, I need the card. The Centrelink office is a place to make you feel lucky…luckier than the slender barefoot fellow who has had more addresses than hot dinners, or the harassed mum who has to keep asking the gal what to do next on the computer, or the elderly lady with the papery Queensland skin frowning perplexedly at the bank of brochures to which she’s been directed.

They are really helpful in there, but even they cannot surmount the bureaucracy that says you can’t apply for the card here IN PERSON. No, you have to go home and ring up, and let’s hope you’ve spotted on the website the magic words charges apply! (And remember, your call is very important to us, so we’ve placed you in a queue). All they can give you at the office is a special code so that when you ring up, they are authorised to ring you back when your spot in the queue comes up. Then, they will send you a form (five working days), then you have to send it back (five working days) and they will process it and send it to you (ten working days). More deep breathing, this time into a plastic bag…put me out of my misery.

Actually my misery isn’t really the point. I have a landline and good internet, and I don’t have to be out looking for work so I can wait for the phone call. Imagine if I was very young/ very old/ out of cash/ not online/unable to sustain a smart phone/left school without a decent education/ mentally or physically unwell/ supporting a family etc etc. Those Centrelink people do their best, but the world belongs to the electronically connected, and if life has set you adrift with no visible means of support, woe will indeed betide you, and bonus! You may even cop the blame for your own difficulties. But it could be worse. Thanks to the courage and vision of the extraordinary Gough Whitlam, who was both mourned and celebrated this week, we have support for single mothers and their kids and a health care safety net – an achievement that President Obama has tried to emulate, with deep unpopularity as his reward. Maybe when he turns 98, someone will acknowledge the decency of what he tried to do.

Barack ObamaGough

Meanwhile, my computer is telling me I have blocked plug-ins, and until I unblock them I won’t be able to look at any more videos of kittens doing cute things.* I just need to download Flash Player…no worries. What’s that they need? My password? Umm…


*No kittens were harmed in the posting of this blog.