Carpet Ride

I HAVE NEVER been one for shopping lists or planning weekly meal menus. And nor, it seems, warehouse furniture shopping.

I have proven that I approach warehouse shopping in exactly the same way I approach food shopping: with spontaneity and according to what is on special.

Of course, I will buy the sensible basics, but it’s the other miscellaneous items that often become a little blurred and spur of the moment. This means I am always short of shopping bags. I always go in for rice and come out with an extra large pack of ‘on special’ toilet paper or mountains of bread that was marked down to a mere 99cents.

In exactly the same way, I found myself in a furniture warehouse clearance store with absolutely no idea how to get my large purchase into my dinky toy of a car.

Here is an absolute fact: A grown woman can carry her own body weight if determined enough to shove a large, heavy-weight carpet the size of a netball field in her car made for scooting around the city, not carrying a carpet consignment.

We are not talking little dhurrie rug here. This carpet was a heavy woollen creation that was so dense it must have required an army to remove it from the loom.

‘I think a small animal could live in there,’ a fellow shopper had commented earlier.

Determination, however knows no bounds, and I managed to squeeze the carpet in the car with boot barely closing and the driver’s safety severely compromised. I convinced myself that it was absolutely acceptable to drive while pressed up against the driver’s door, bottom off centre. This was an emergency.

Warehouse furniture sales, if one is not disciplined and focussed can cause one to lose every ounce of good sense and style the minute one enters the zone. It’s nothing like buying toilet paper on special. You will always use the toilet paper. You will not always have use for a decorative urn.

The secret is discipline. New shopping rules apply. I’ve discovered that while I pride myself for spotting a bargain a mile away, it is only a bargain if I really need it. The way to remain focussed is to make a list prior to leaving home and thus limiting spontaneous buys.

A bargain hunter like myself is on dangerous ground when they end up with a heavy weight carpet when what they’d really come for was ….what was it again?

To be fair, it is easy to lose good sense when confronted by a sea of shoppers and an entire shipment of sale items a fraction of their original cost. Pack the consignment into a capacious warehouse and you have confusion.

The annual warehouse sale had caught the attention of the entire population of bargain hunting Brisbanites and competition was fierce. In supermarkets, there are usually enough bargains for everyone. In warehouse clearance sales, there is limited stock. The winner takes all.

There were those quick off the mark – the sensible one’s clutching catalogues and shopping lists so they could hone in on the desired item and leave without fuss. They were seasoned warehouse shoppers. They knew what they wanted and departed with exactly that item – no more, no less.

This elite group were untempted by the wall of radically price reduced vases, the piles of velvety cushions, sensual silk sheets and luxurious bath towels. They were unmoved by the heaped bric-a-brac, designer homeware and decorative (read useless) well, stuff.

Then there were those mere mortals like myself and my fellow confused friend who became unravelled, unbalanced and unable to see the wood for the trees, as it were.

Or, as another friend commented about her warehouse clearance experience: ‘dizzy, overcome with indecision.’

My friend observed a dangerous, recurring pattern – she didn’t like an item until she saw someone else walk off with it.

‘A bit like suddenly liking an ex boyfriend again because he found a new girlfriend,’ I commented.

It is also very easy to be influenced by a For Sale sticker that once said $400, and now says $20, no matter that the ottoman in question is canary yellow. Creativity and possible justification for purchase is a common characteristic of a rabid bargain hunter.

The trick is to self talk. A two-seater Fanta orange couch marked down from $800 to a mere $99 was reduced in price for a reason: It is hideous. I have to repeat this self talk several times over and sensibly remain unmoved by the tempting slashed prices.

I came oh so close to falling for a bright green ottoman the colour of mushy peas. ‘Think gracious classic colonial, think gracious colonial,’ was my mantra as I perused the vast warehouse, scanning it’s bowels for a touch of class.

The carpet, admittedly, was a compromise. It caught my eye as I realised the warehouse rug supply was fast dwindling and I may miss out on a bargain all together. My poor children would forever sit with their cold little bottoms on a worn old kilim rug, threadbare and way past its prime.

The monstrous floor covering was made up of square shades of sludge: Sludge brown, sludge cream that although not quite fitting my classic colonial picture, was a good foil for messy children and their friends.
It had tufts resembling a bed of sea urchins – or fat little grubs I’d seen coming out of my lawn. The label promised it was pure wool and hand woven. My heart went out to the weavers.

It was comfy quite beyond expectation. Like stepping on marshmallows. My sad old kilim had nothing on its cushion-like softness. Several shoppers were eyeing it out. They were coming closer, remarking on how lovely it was, what a bargain marked down from a cool $1400 to a mere $150.

Sold! To the lady squatting like an urchin on the sludge brown worm carpet.

And so it was that I came for a couch and left with a carpet. And a curvaceous bamboo urn that had my husband ask, ‘What is it? I would never in million years have imagined you’d choose something like that.’ And a teal coloured wicker footstool worn and yes, rather colonial, I self-talked. For just one dollar, I was not about to haggle. I also found pastel green camping cups. And dare I admit it, another rug. Black, with orange, sage green and rust squiggles. Pure wool, marked down from $499 to $50. An absolute bargain.

Soon to be auctioned on Ebay…

And the sludge slug carpet? My children love it.

One has already spilled an entire mug of Milo on a chocolate sludge square and it blended beautifully…

Copyright © 2015 by Lois Nicholls

Leaning Towards Christmas

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—The tree is up and our feral feline has already been seduced by its baubles and bling and attempted to climb its fake Canterbury pine branches and make off with the flashing star.

He made the same ascent last year with, pardon the pun, catastrophic results. He snapped the top clean off resulting in an eternal leaning due to two taped stakes connecting the tree top to its piny nether regions.

Admittedly, this leaning does give the tree a certain authentic ‘I was harvested on a particularly blustery winter morning’ appearance. Instead, it was made in China with the only real similarity being that, this one, like its genuine counterpart, has a definite shelf life.

This Christmas, I fear, will be its last. The rest of the Christmas decorations have also taken on a rather forlorn air, mostly because the chief festivity officer, namely my daughter, has taken off to Europe. She’s enjoying a bracing start to a European winter while we begin the slow melt into summer.

While we may not have all the trappings of a picture book Christmas, an Aussie Christmas has one definite advantage: Sunshine—lots of it. We can take full advantage of nature’s own energy source and go mad with solar lights. That’s if they’re not all snapped up by greedy solar shoppers. There never seems to be enough to go around. I managed to salvage the last bucket of white icicle lights (irony there) at my local supermarket which I proceeded to excitedly drape over our entrance wall. They showed great promise until I realised they were six metres long and the wall was twelve. Half the wall looks dazzling but the fun stops there. Reindeer

To make up for the lack of lighting, I hung up last year’s wreaths made from my old passionfruit vine and sticks I found in the bush. Rustic festive charm is the general theme. I also had a couple of wooden reindeer lovingly crafted by my husband. However, these seem to have landed up in the fire pit when a certain teenager insisted it was too late to gather his own wood when friends were arriving ‘any minute’. All that remains of Rudolph is his log head and a rather faded red bow.

All that remains of Rudolph is his log head and a rather faded red bow.

Shopping at Christmas is universally manic. Each year I resolve to avoid the mayhem by adopting the clichéd yet sensible ‘shop through the year’ approach. It never works. I know without a doubt that with a week to go I will be the vague shopper pacing the lofty, festooned and fake marbled hallways of my local shopping mall.

I will be the wild-eyed woman manically humming ‘Jingle Bells’ with mounting hysteria. And unfortunately, I will have only myself to blame. If the truth be told, weeks ago, I specifically went to buy a particular someone a Christmas present only to be drawn like a magnet to the sale rack of a rather enticing clothes shop. It ended right there.

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I do, however, have a rather canny and last ditch trick up my sleeve. It’s called online shopping. That’s if I haven’t already missed the deadline. Let me check … oops, one week to go. So online it will bein the cool comfort of my own home, a glass of festive cheer on hand.

I will cleverly avoid the onslaught of shoppers, sweaty Santa’s or sneaky sale racks. Sounds blissful. All that remains is the food shop which will include a tray of luscious, sun-kissed Bowen mangoes. Instant sensory, festive euphoria has to be the sight of these golden nuggets nestling in air-conditioned comfort on the kitchen counter.

Then and only then will I be perfectly set for an Aussie Christmas.

Let the joyful countdown begin …

Wishing you all a blessed and bountiful Christmas!

© Lois Nicholls 2014


Fairy Tale Formal

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—When the uninformed see the composed, elegant, beautiful images of other people’s daughters posing at their ‘formal’, they have no idea that behind every smiling, buffed beauty in exquisite dress, heals and hairdo is a harassed mum who hasn’t had time to shave her legs.

I thought I would never succumb. No-one was going to force me to bow to peer pressure, book for MAC make-up (“can’t you just do your own?”), acquire a Coach clutch and source killer heels. We weren’t going to sit for hours at the hairdressers trying to replicate a delicate ‘do’ featured by Kate Moss in Vogue. I wasn’t going to be the mum trawling tirelessly through boutiques in search of THE MOST UNIQUE FORMAL DRESS ON THE PLANET. Book a spray tan? Too artificial, darling. No, not I. How wrong I was. Have done all of the above bar Coach clutch. I’ve been unwittingly sucked into the great Year 12 formal vortex and there’s no fleeing now. How on earth did I think I’d escape?

But have I learnt a lot! During the search for the elusive dress, I was suddenly privy to an entire range of designers I’d never heard of: Camilla, Zimmerman, Sass & Bide, Bec & Bridge … rolled off my daughter’s tongue as though she’d been fraternising with the Packers all her life. Such are the joys of the internet. And Vogue. She was incorrigible. She’d send me links to dresses she’d seen while perusing online boutiques during her double Maths class. Maths, for goodness sake!

Armed with a strict budget, she continued her online quest at home. The first dress was a disaster. Having two brutally honest brothers turned out to be a blessing in disguise because when the feather-light parcel arrived and the slip of a dress paraded, my younger son took one look at his sister and announced she looked like a laboratory assistant. It was arctic white, a tad clinical and I’m afraid his comment completely ruined any chance of a revival.  So back it went.

We finally agreed that the online route could be fraught with mishaps so we headed off to the much-lauded fashion mecca otherwise known as ‘The Valley’. Other mums have called it ‘The Valley of Doom’ because there’s a fair chance an emotionally exhausted mum could keel over for good through sheer shopping fatigue. Perhaps it’s folklore but some mums have also been known to spend an entire day trailing from shop to shop only to return home empty handed after uttering some final innocuous words akin to: “Don’t you perhaps think it’s a bit too tight?” In comparison, our trip went rather well, given that we found the perfect dress in only our third boutique. It was beautiful and within budget. My daughter looked stunning.  All done and dusted a whole three months in advance. Not bad going, I thought smugly.

I was wrong. Three months, it turns out, is far too long to like a dress. It’s also far too long to actually return a dress. Before my darling daughter is labelled a spoilt brat, let me explain—she’s not. She buys most of her own clothes, sews many of them, is a seasoned ‘Op’ shopper and accomplished bargain queen. And in her defence, I did see a flicker of indecision when the shop assistant and I gushed over the dress I thought was perfectly adorable (perhaps mildly influenced by the painful thought of more boutique trawling). And there was a touch of uncertainty when I hurriedly suggested: “Let’s buy it now!” So the dress went on eBay and without blinking, my fashionista daughter sourced a new one.

It’s admittedly rather lovely and she promises this one’s for keeps. Now, all we need are accessories, spray tan, hair and makeup. How hard can that be?

Illustration by Lara Nicholls on Society6 –

Turning 50 – ‘Elle’ of a lot of pressure

THERE’S BEEN a lot written lately about Elle turning 50 next year.

I take an interest because I am almost the same vintage and so, share a certain affinity with the magnificently proportioned and ageless model known as The Body. In case you’re wondering, the aforementioned tag justifiably stuck after her five cover appearances on the iconic Sports Illustrated magazine.

I was born in July ‘63 – my friend Elle in March ’64 – which makes us a mere 8 months apart. We both finished school in ‘81 so could, theoretically, have been classmates. We could have enjoyed the same movies – For Your Eyes Only, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Raiders of the Lost Ark … remember those? We probably listened to the same music, boogied on the disco floor to Blondie’s Call Me, went through a phase of schoolgirl anarchy with Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall – and slow-danced to Captain and Tennille’s Do That to Me One More Time … aah, the memories. The similarity, I am sad to say, ends there.

I recently mentioned to my teens that: “Did you know Elle is turning 50 next year? We’re almost the same vintage,” after showing them a particularly fetching newspaper shot of her sporting surfboard and trademark bikini at Bondi. “No ways! I can’t believe it!” My daughter gushed with a tad more enthusiasm than entirely necessary, followed by a telling look at the apparition next to her – me, basking unashamedly in a state of early morning glory – a bra-less wonder in sleep shorts and faded T-shirt.

Yes, I concede, Elle is drop-dead gorgeous. She also looks a decade or two younger than her age but I fear that through her sheer air of perfection, she has made herself untouchable.  Perhaps it is time to let go a bit. For example, just yesterday I read yet another article about her impending 50th birthday and yet another boring interviewer asking how she managed to retain such eternal youthfulness.

I didn’t have to read what she said – I knew exactly what the publicity machine would pontificate. “Organic food, exercise and three litres of water a day.” And of course, seven hours of sleep a night. Personally, the bit that fascinated me most was the three litres of water. I would be up all night.

I happened to mention this tiresome interview to a friend who is also on the slippery cusp of turning 50. She too was skeptical.  “Pullllease … organic? This is organic,“ she said, outlining her comfortably rounded figure. I’m with her. Just once, I wish Elle would own up. Her popularity would not wane if she casually suggested that: “Actually, sometimes I polish off a whole slab of chocolate and I’m more than a little partial to the odd drop.”  Just once I wish she would let loose and say something vaguely outrageous like: “Pass me the chips, I’m almost 50 for goodness sake, not 20. And by the way, all that stuff about organic food is cods-wallop – I have had a teeny weeny bit of work done. And, yes, my knees occasionally ache when I jog.”

In fact, I would dare suggest she practices embracing her 50’s with a new sense of honesty. There is still an entire year to become the people’s person. There’s plenty of opportunity for a career change and how less stressful that would be – for the rest of her contemporaries too.

One totally plausible possibility is the role of talk show host – a replacement for Oprah, perhaps. I would call it ‘Elle Talks … at last’. I predict soaring popularity when she spills the beans on how hard it was to keep up the pretence and pressure of being The Body. Oh the relief of revealing she is human after all. I predict a swarm of ageing actresses lining up to tell their story – of publicly   renouncing Botox, body sculpting and buckwheat.

But I fear this revelation won’t happen any time soon. Elle is the face of Brand Elle – of sun, surf and eternally fresh-faced, lithe-bodied beauty.  But Oh Elle, what pressure!  Maintaining that whippet body, perfect skin, hair and make-up must be immense. I would suggest fifty will be a timely age to finally hang up the string bikini and tell the world to find themselves another Body – that this one is tired. And at times, rather sore.

And so, Elle, I beseech you, drop your guard. We will love you even more, I promise. And all the millions of women facing a scarily imminent fifty will breathe a sigh of relief and reach, guilt-free for the double chocolate cheesecake and full cream latte.

We, your presumptuous peers wait with bated breath. And we’re here for you, glass of cheeky Riesling in hand (or perhaps you would prefer a full-bodied Cab Sav?) if you need us.

© Lois Nicholls 2013

An edited version of this article appeared in The Sunday Mail, 3rd March 2013 – Click to view.

Happy Campers on Fraser Island

CAMPING is a bit like childbirth, you forget the pain until you go through it all again.

The main problem with our family is that no matter how organised we think we are when embarking on a camping expedition, we’re very soon proved otherwise. This is a fact I have come to not only expect, but accept. Our latest mission did, however, have all the potential of a smooth operation. This lay mainly in the recent acquisition of a second hand box trailer so no-one had to endure a two hour journey enveloped in bedding and the occasional cooking pot.

Yes, we were well and truly ready for Fraser Island. So we thought. The truth is, our camping is too sporadic to be truly organised. Years may lapse before we say yes to the pleas of friends and our children who are now old enough to toss around guilt-inducing comments such as: “We never do anything exciting.”

So, the preparation began. Probably not soon enough, now that I think about it. I did Google a camping list, having mislaid a highly organised friend’s personalised list and being too proud to ask for a reprint. I do recall trawling through reams of camping advice but was distracted a few times by things like how much food a 16-year-old might need over a four-day period, given that he’s prone to eating a full dinner again after dinner.

Another distraction was the impending campsite midnight loo visits. I was determined to nip any dingo angst in the bud by finally acquiring my own throne. This took some searching – yes, camping stores have ample loos, but I wanted something a little more subtle and given our infrequent camping, a little less costly. My journey took me to my local army surplus store which I know from experience stocks everything but bazookas.

I had a feeling they would have exactly what I was looking for. And of course they did. Even though the helpful assistant first mistook my clandestine whisper of: “Do you have a potty?” for “Do you have a patty?”

She found what I was looking for in no time at all once I’d spelt out ‘P-O-T-T-Y.’

So for a slightly inflated twenty bucks I obtained a toilet seat that fit snugly onto a bucket. Better still, I discovered a novelty UFO torch – a disc shape that lit up exactly like a real UFO – enough to scare the living daylights out of any dingo that came within a whisker of my tent.

After days of preparation, we were finally ready to embark on the camping journey. It did seem strange that we were packed to the rafters once more in spite of newly acquired trailer. Our retriever stared forlornly as we trundled off with trailer and loaded roof racks.

We had organised house sitters so our eight chickens, one chick, one dog and a cat who thinks it’s a dog would be well taken care of. Our rendezvous was 5am. We set off at 4.30am. Way on schedule. Smugness set in. This soon dissipated when we realised we had not left a key for our house sitters. Long story cut short … there was a brief delay as we retraced our steps to deliver said key.

We realised we were outclassed by our fellow campers rather early on in the equation. Immediately, in fact. As we took off, we were handed a walkie talkie through the window.

“So we can communicate while in convoy …”

The instructions were swift.

“This is ‘Eagle’, could you tell me your name, over.”

A brief consensus resulted in ‘Night Hawk.’ Our third car was ‘Rover One.’ We practised our repertoire.

My husband took on a different persona each time he relayed a message. His voice became a deep drawl – slow and suspiciously emulating one of those old war movies. So slow and deep it was soon wrenched from his hands from his long suffering children.

After a three hour’s drive, we arrived at the ferry.

A long drive later and with much: “Night Hawk, this is Rover 1. Where are you? Over.” sort of talk, we arrived at our campsite. Oh the joys. There was a communal, powered kitchen with a fridge, a shop stocking essentials within walking distance. Pure luxury compared to previous trips.

The tent was erected without fanfare and tables and chairs laid out in a more or less organised fashion. Or so we thought. We happened to glance over at our neighbours. Both layouts were perfect. The one had a cupboard – a sort of fold up apparition that housed their tinned goods, eating and cooking utensils. They also had a special ground cover. This, I later discovered, allowed sand and water to filter through rather than pool in an uncomfortable muddy mixture underfoot after an early morning downpour.

Their site remained pristine for four days. Our site, on the other hand, had all the haphazard charm of a hoarder’s hovel. Where to put everything? A perusal of fellow campers made it clear that we were alone in our disorder. These were seasoned campers. Everything had a place. They were not swamped by towels hanging from every tent rope but had neat little fold up mini clothes drier. They didn’t bring two camping toasters because unlike yours truly, they had reviewed the contents of their old camping container prior to leaving.

Come evening, I discovered another oversight – no pillows, save one lone one belonging to my youngest son. I shamelessly offered him $10 for a four-day loan. A pitiful sum perhaps but I promised to make him one out of my beach bag and spare T-shirts.

My throne was also proving a little inefficient. Terrified of the dingoes I heard pattering round the campsite at night, I decided the throne was a viable option. But where to dispose of contents in the morning? Surrounded by busy Easter campers, were I to walk to the ablution block carrying anointed black receptacle, it all but screamed: “Wee bucket coming through!” So after one night’s use, I chose the dangerous method of waking up husband and dragging him to the loo – and playing ‘scary UFO’s’ with my new light en-route.

Once I’d got over an extreme bout of camper envy, I settled into my surroundings. Accepted that sand underfoot was unavoidable on a sandy campsite. Embraced midnight dingo encounters, the night sounds and blissful lack of computers, mobile phones and schedules. Loved the laughter brought on by card games, campsite chatter, the sleepy tent banter of my precious family as we settled in for the night.

I revelled in the waves crashing onto the beach as I drifted off to sleep. By day, was infatuated with the beauty of inland lakes, of unspoilt beaches and unbearably beautiful rain forests.

Another bout of camping? I know that in spite of myself, I’ll be there trailer and all. The pain will again be a distant memory.

And I’ll be organised this time, because, you see, I found the old camping list … folded neatly alongside the two unused camping toasters.

Text and Photos Copyright 2012 Lois Nicholls

Liar, liar, your pants are on fire!

It’s local election time again in Queensland and politicians are out kissing babies, riding on tractors and planting trees.

In other words, they’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes. They are also resorting to smear campaigns, digging up every last little nugget they can to try and convince an embattled public that they are the more deserving candidate. It’s ugly out there.

And how out of touch they are. Exactly how short a memory do they think we have? When is Anna Bligh going to stop dining out on her tearful flood speech ie. “We are Queenslanders…” I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. I’ve witnessed her poisonous vitriol in parliament  – I tend to think people show their true colours under pressure and that, she did, going as far as suggesting her opponent, Campbell Newman was destined for jail on account of his business dealings.

Another thing, Anna, I ‘aks’ you with tears in my eyes … please learn how to say ask. You’ve had enough practise by now.

I get that politicians have to convince us of their prowess – of their strength in the case of adversity – of their ability to get the blinking job done, but kissing hapless babies? A word of advice: don’t do it if it doesn’t come naturally. We are not taken in by photo opportunistic poses. Babies are insightful little souls – few appear to actually enjoy the prospect of being kissed or hugged by a politician. They’re a bit like animals in that way, they see through the smarminess. They recognise authenticity.

And that’s a bit thin on the ground right now. Am I alone in glazing over when they start their policy talk, their coined phrases and empty promises of a better, brighter future for all “working families”.  Aren’t we all working families? Sorry, perhaps I’m cynical but the sad truth is, I don’t believe a word they are saying.

And while I’m on the subject of kissing, we also remain unmoved by great shows of public affection, Mr Newman. I love that you love your wife and family, but enough already! You can hold hands, just don’t smooch in public. Also, come clean on all your business dealings, please.

Perhaps I will go with the mad hatter, Katter after all … at least he has an honest interest in the farming community.

Personally, I remain unmoved by great shows of sensitivity, of earnest displays of affection, of teary speeches, of mine visits, of mingling with the crowds so to speak. Perhaps all the recent back stabbing within the Labour ranks has simply left a bitter taste in the mouth. Who to believe? Politicians speak with forked tongues – the past few weeks have proved that. What you see is not what you get. What they say is not what they’re thinking.

It will take a lot more than a tractor ride or another photo opportunity at a native tree planting ceremony to convince me anyone is a worthy candidate at all.

The Greens? Don’t like them either – dig a little deeper and you’ll find they’re not all about tree hugging and preserving the planet. They’re a little too conniving for my liking. Smarmy too.

Perhaps I will go with the mad hatter, Katter after all … at least he has an honest interest in the farming community.

But there again, he has been known for a touch of foot in mouth so there is still plenty of time for him do something downright irritating – and then, I suppose, it’s back to the drawing board, or is that ‘drawring’ board, Anna?

Royal photo opportunity missed for good

I WENT TO SEE THE QUEEN and all I saw was a flash of her mint green suit.

It had been a spontaneous decision to seize the day and take all three of our children out of school to witness this historic royal visitation. It was quite plausible after all that this could be Her Majesty’s last visit to Brisbane. They would remember this occasion for years to come.

The enthusiasm of missing school and seeing the queen was tangible. Everyone made sure their shoes were appropriate as I’d relayed a story about Prince Phillip snubbing a royal fan after he caught sight of their old, scuffed shoes. We would be more than ready for the prince and the queen with our neat attire and well-shod feet.

We announced our decision to visit Her Majesty to friends and our neighbour and her three children together with three more eager friends took up the offer to accompany us. All were naturally delighted to take a day off school thanks to the sanctioning by our education minister. Our new royalists ranged in age from Grade 4 to Grade 11—civilised, manageable ages not prone to getting lost or behaving inappropriately in Her Majesty’s presence (we of course visualised her shaking our hands and congenially chatting).

We set off at 8am, intending to pick out our spot along her Southbank route. The train trip was uncomplicated and we were lulled into a false sense that perhaps we were among only a handful of royal watchers out on this sunny October morning. We disembarked at Southbank, and still, the crowd was not overwhelming—a promising sign. The only early birds like us were some prettily frocked little girls carrying posies of flowers while accompanied by their suitably elegant mums. The flowers, we discovered later, would be their ticket to the queen. (Note to self: Next time, bring extravagant bunch of flowers—preferably containing a few native species bound to be given the nod for their patriotism. Borrow adorable child to accompany flowers.)

A young girl waits patiently with roses for the queen Photo ©

We decided on a spot near the wheel where we could see the queen as she ascended the stairs to QPAC. According to security, we would have a good vantage point as she and her entourage later drove through the arbour. What we hadn’t quite counted on was the crowd that slowly filled our little viewing spot. Or that we would not be able to leave our station for five hours for fear of forever losing precious ground. Never underestimate the wily ways of unsuspecting little old grannies carrying fold up stools and sporting a benign smile. They can take your spot from right under your nose without a hint of shame.

The sun beat fiercely for an October morning and as the hours went by; the main entertainment became witnessing SES volunteers rescuing swooning elderly royalists and dehydrated children. Caged behind security fencing, without shade or nearby water stations, it was not surprising we commoners were fading fast.

Dehydrated Royalists revived in the shade by SES volunteers Photo ©

As one Lifeguard volunteer was heard to say: “The old ducks are dropping like flies”.

After what seemed like an eternity and after several mutterings from our jaded clan that an air-conditioned classroom was starting to sound rather appealing, there was a roar from the crowd. This signalled Her Majesty had disembarked from her cruiser and was heading towards QPAC.

We were parched and seared from hours in the sun but we rose to the occasion and snapped away at … well, at the back of people’s heads. Where was the woman? We knew she was wearing mint green from the massive television screen we had glimpsed earlier, but there were so many hats and so many hangers on it was hard to discern where the lady of the moment was at all.

I hoisted up a squashed and sweaty toddler behind me to catch a glimpse of the queen.

“See, she’s the old lady with the pale green hat,“ I said, barely able to see her myself.

He looked at me with a bemused expression and I had a sudden realisation he hadn’t a clue what he was looking at. Nor did I. Well, I did see her mint green suit for a second from the shoulders up—and the back of her matching green hat—oh yes and I should be grateful for the glimpse of her white-gloved hand waving to the crowd.

“See, she’s the old lady with the pale green hat,“ I said Photo ©

Only later did I realise that in my frenzied bid to see the queen, I had completely missed Prince Phillip. And then it was over. The queen failed to walk up the QPAC stairs as predicted and must have snuck through another entrance to greet flood victims. We would have to wait for a proper look when she drove past us in the royal procession. May I add that people were still passing out in the heat and there was no water to be had. The drinks seller had long run out of cold drinks and the crowd was so thick, there didn’t seem any access to water bubblers at all.

Fearing one of our large party would flake out in the half hour wait for the queen to re-emerge from QPAC, I decided to be the water scout. Loaded with a back pack of empty water bottles, I headed off. A tired looking SES worker directed me to a bubbler along the edge of the river and I prepared to stand in a long line. There was, however, a mere trickle emanating from this water source and I predicted it would take me ages to fill 11 water bottles. I also feared I would be lynched by a thirsty mob for hogging the bubbler.

I decided wash basins in the ablution block were a better option. So I headed once again through throngs of onlookers now gathered at the rainforest where she was due to appear later, to the ablution blocks. There I was greeted by a long queue. Finally, I reached water and filled up 11 water bottles to revive a parched troupe. Buoyed by my successful quest, I pushed my way through crowds once again, and finally, had our vantage point in my sights. Just then there was a roar of excitement and I saw cameras held aloft photographing the queen and her entourage driving within a hair’s breadth of our spot. I had missed the entire royal drive by. My opportunity to glimpse the queen close up was forever dashed.

Only Her Majesty can draw this kind of attention! Photo ©

I did later see the video footage on my daughter’s iPod—and the photograph taken by my son as she drove past.
She looked enchanting and I’m told by a fortunate friend who actually got to see her up close, her skin is translucent and unblemished for a woman of her age. She’s also charming, attentive and somewhat smaller than she appears in photographs.

I’ll have to take her word for it.

© Lois Nicholls

Superwoman of Super Waste

It’s that time of year again where my family insists I be locked up. Not that I’ve done anything wrong yet —it’s just that they know something embarrassing is imminent. It’s the annual or bi-annual council pick up, you see. That time of year when distracting piles of junk—no let me rephrase—someone else’s treasure lies on the curb for all to see. The very innards of their soul lie naked for public perusal.

The last pick up was dismal. Even for a seasoned fixer-upper like myself, there was little to fix. It was already broken. Nothing to paint—it was beyond redemption. The GFC had a left a ruthless aftermath. There was nothing worth salvaging from the piles of flagrant rubbish that lay scattered forlornly on curbs.

This year appears slightly more encouraging. Early sightings have been positive. Furniture appears whole and wholly salvageable. A garden pot, seen, but not taken, is unbroken. I have already helped myself to a perfectly good book case. Yet the thought that I am on the prowl is inciting sheer terror in my family. The memory of the three-legged garden arch is far too fresh in their minds.

Your Trash my Treasure from Lois Nicholls on Vimeo

This was the year I had to abort the first attempt at squeezing a metal garden arch into my diminutive run- about, forced instead to hide the arch in nearby bush and return at dusk with a bigger car and three children. The fact that the arch had one leg missing didn’t deter my ardour. I had visions for my arbour.

As I write, a creeper grows majestically over my find. And yet, my triumph is tainted by the thought that the retrieval of the three-legged arch is a story I know my children have stored away in ‘the most embarrassing thing Mom ever did’ memory bank. I know they will recount the embellished tale to my grandchildren when I am old and fragile.

The truth of the matter is, they have little to fear. I glean, I do not indiscriminately grab. The treasures I find are required, not simply stored away for a rainy day. I am no hoarder. And nor am I a slimy reseller. I do not have the time or energy to troll the neighbourhoods from dawn to dusk with a trailer, (umm, anyone own one?).

Indeed, my act of retrieval is a selfless one. I prefer to be known as a drive-by recycler. I am a wanton superwoman of super-waste. I am a selfless one-woman crusader against our throwaway society, one that shamelessly discards old for new.

Be back in a tick … there’s a garden pot that needs picking up…

Teen Party Mania

A FRIEND RECENTLY hosted a 16th birthday party at her home. Planning was military. There would be no alcohol and she and her husband hired three burly body guards to check guests at the front entrance.

Several adults were also on hand to peruse the periphery of the property checking for opportunistic gate crashers.

The costume party was by invitation only and sixty young guests were expected.

The hosts admit to being control freaks, so they covered every eventuality. The police were informed about the party beforehand, as were all the neighbours in the quiet, upmarket Brisbane street.

What could possibly go wrong? Nothing did, for a while. The teens enjoyed dancing and enjoying each other’s company, seemingly content to enjoy the hired disc jockey’s music and act like 16-year-olds. Things turned rather suddenly.

At around 10pm, the first fleet of taxis arrived and out spilled teenagers – many of them with bottles of alcohol and clearly under the influence.

By now there were around 60 imposters milling around the street. Next, they began scaling the fence of a neighbour’s yard to try and gain access. Another neighbour phoned to say he’d seen young men and women streaming along the road from the nearby train station. A few gatecrashers had been expected, but certainly not on this scale.

After a brief deliberation, the parents did the most sensible thing they could under the circumstances and much to the devastation of their teen, shut down the party. In the aftermath, they found ‘around $300 worth of alcohol’ – bottles were hidden in bushes and much of it confiscated from guests who were implicitly told ‘no alcohol’.

My friend even discovered two bottles of vanilla essence smuggled inside by invited guests. “How desperate is that?” she asked, dumb-founded.

So what went wrong? How did all these teens know about the party if it was closed and by invitation only?

It seems that no matter what extremes they went to in order to create a controlled environment, imposters came. The reason, my friend discovered, was simple – with the help of modern technology, guests could invite all their friends within minutes of arriving at the party. Those friends in turn messaged their friends who in turn sent messages to their friends – and so it snow-balled.

As a mother of three – two of whom are teens, the tale of this party put me off for life. I informed the family that sorry, parties (unless associated with tea and cake), were forever banned in our household.

I mentioned this fact to another friend – one who is a seasoned host of several teen parties.

She reminded me that all celebrations had progressed without incident. The most recent was her son’s 18th birthday party. There was alcohol; there were 60 invited guests and no bouncers – just a few parents and the hosts. Her son even invited his friends via Facebook.

“They had a great party and at 12pm, everyone was ready to go home,” said my friend.

So what was her secret?

“We were fortunate – we never had any problems and I can only put that down to my son’s friends – if you can’t trust the friends, don’t hold the party.”

Perhaps there is a faint glimmer of hope for my deprived teens – am quite sure we could rustle up a deployment of army reservists just in case …