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

Middle-Aged Dread

IN MY MOTHER’S ERA, middle-aged mothers were content to be middle-aged mothers.

They wore comfortable clothing and would not have dreamed of trying to fit into their teenage daughter’s jeans or befriending her friends on Facebook.

There were a couple of ‘glamour pusses’ in the small town in which I grew up – perhaps the local boutique or beauty parlour owner – but on the whole, they were all of similar elk. I don’t remember anyone being particularly reed slim unless born that way, and I don’t recall anyone power walking with weights or hiring a personal trainer to work on their ‘abs’.

There were no gym junkies because there were no gyms and a weekly game of tennis was the sociable ‘exercise’ of choice. The more adventurous souls took up yoga when the fad hit town and I recall my nicely rounded mum proudly showing us how she could stand on her head. They settled into middle age with an accepting sigh and laughed off a couple of gained kilos or a midriff that bore testimony to three children and a tad too many cream scones.

They occasionally went on diet ‘on Monday’ after a particularly ‘naughty’ weekend of too much Chicken a-la king and trifle at Daphne’s (such a good cook!) but generally, everyone embraced their age without much fanfare. Well, that’s what it seemed anyway.

Now that I’m the same sort of age – middle aged and beyond, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. I blame it partially on middle-aged women such as Elle and Cindy – the supermodels who are now super-middle-aged.  Cindy graciously admitted recently that even she doesn’t look like Cindy Crawford with the amount of air brushing prior to a magazine spread. Even so, she’s undoubtedly a hard act to follow.

And Elle? Well, let’s just say that Elle has great genes and leave it at that. She is not your average 52-year-old woman and no-one should even aspire to measure up. She also confessed recently that her flawless school run paparazzi shots are the result of two hours of hair and make-up prior to going to work. She gave us that, at least.

The problem, it seems, is that certain middle aged women are buying into the idea that middle age is the new 30-something. Here’s a thing: It’s not. I don’t remember maintenance being part of my general beauty routine. I don’t recall sprouting hairs in wholly unreasonable places in my Thirties, finally putting to rest the theory that God has no sense of humour. He does. Why else would he suddenly allow eyebrows to sprout unusually long hairs? And why, after all these years, would he consent to benign and once fondly-regarded moles to start propagating? We did not see that one coming.

He is compassionate too, allowing the eyes to grow dim just at a time when every minute detail needs to be taken care of before leaving the house. Soft focus is what I get when I peer in the mirror sans Jerry Hall, says she never wears her glasses when checking her appearance for this reason – her vision may be blurred but her self-image remains totally in focus. Go Jerry!

Those who have bought into the idea that they should, at 45-plus, still appear 30-plus should stick to themselves. By all means, hone your bodies to unnatural perfection, severely limit your intake of carbs (pass the potatoes, please!) and partake in every  age-defying potion out there, just don’t let us all know about it. You clearly have far too much time on your hands and should not be allowed to inflict your skewed take on middle age on those of us who are graciously trying to acquiesce.

I speak, particularly, of a rather acerbic remark directed at a fellow middle aged friend recently. She had returned to her country of birth to visit family with her two teens and husband. Her ticket home was booked a few days earlier than her family’s, who were invited out in her absence, by long-time friends. Back home, her daughter relayed a question from her family’s glamorous host who asked, supposedly without a hint of rancour, whether her mum ‘had lost any weight yet’. The shocked daughter said, no actually, she hadn’t but she was quite content with the way she was.

An observation: There was no mention of ‘how is your mother?’ or ‘how is her business going?’ or even, ‘is she well?’ The friend in question is a perfectly adequate size 12 to 14 – she has character, a brain and far more to offer than a weight loss report.

The shallow comment brings me to another point. Surely, at this age, women should work far harder on honing something rather longer-lasting and important – such as character, for example. Surely goodness, kindness, compassion, grace, love and laughter should be our goal. Perhaps we should pursue reaching out to others less fortunate and dare I say it, taking an interest in others, instead of a narcissistic pursuit of unattainable perfection.

And while this grumpy middle aged woman is at it, please don’t do ‘selfies’ on Facebook. Leave that to the teens. And don’t airbrush your profile pic. Posing in a bikini is also not acceptable – I don’t care how gorgeous your bod has become after those daily two-hour gym sessions, I really don’t want to see you posing in cyberspace. Cover up already.

One more thing: I’m not advocating letting it all hang out and not taking care of yourself. There’s no harm exercising and eating properly to remain healthy and strong.  All I’m saying is please give us middle aged women a break. Let us eat, drink and be merry. Let us grow old gracefully, guilt-free and graciously.

We’ve certainly earned it.

PS. Perhaps my headline should have been Middle-Age Dread and Revenge of the ‘MERDS’  – that’s Middle-aged, Enlightened, Robust, Delectable Sisters. Feel free to join us!

A Bone to Pick with Paleo

Paleo

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA — The beleaguered Pete Evans of paleo persuasion might just have an ally on the far-flung side of the world. His name is Professor Tim Noakes and I truly believe he and Pete should chew the cud, so to speak.

The renowned Cape Town based professor you see, is also under public scrutiny for his dietary views. He is a great protagonist of the Banting diet (very similar to Paleo but says yes to a little dairy). Sugar is pure evil. He’s also the author of The Real Meal Revolution. His original notoriety, however, was gained from a heavyweight book he once wrote, The Lore of Running.

Noakes’ recent media scrutiny stems from his complete backflip when it comes to his former high carb teachings. He’s been pretty vocal about his new high fat, low carb diet. He, like Pete has been publicly bashed by dieticians and worse, fellow Cape Town University academics. The public is also fed up, judging by a reliable source of scandal, Facebook.

Years ago, every running enthusiast I knew loaded with pasta pre-race because the professor told them to. They devoured his heavy tome and in pursuit of running excellence, ensured they followed his diet plan to the last pasta shell.

I was one such devotee, particularly when it came to pre-race diets and training plans. If Professor Noakes said it was true, so it was. He was a renowned sports scientist after all – not to mention a participant of 70 marathons and ultra-marathons. And now, all these years later, he has come out and said sorry, I was wrong. You know that bit where I said: let them eat pasta? Well, they should have eaten steak instead.

But really, is that enough? Just sorry? Sorry doesn’t quite cut it for the thousands of well-meaning runners who hosted hundreds of pre-race pasta parties.

Most deserving of a special apology, however, is the old man of the road, Wally Hayward. A former Olympian, he won the infamous Comrades Marathon five times (a gruelling 90 kilometres).

He completed his last Comrades just shy of eighty-one. His secret? Legend had it that he consumed a rather generous pre-race steak. Everyone thought he was slightly unhinged at the time. What would an old man know about diet anyway? What about carbs? How the tables turned. A decade or so later, steak became hero and carbs were unceremoniously dumped.

Coming back to Pete, while he and family did look marvelously healthy on their recent Current Affair plug, I couldn’t help thinking what sort of food recollections his sweet children will have.

My nostalgic food memories include ravenously devouring freshly baked white bread sandwiches oozing with butter and marmite. Will beetroot cake evoke the same warm and fuzzies?

The bone I have to pick with both Pete and the venerable professor, I might add, is that both diets are ever so slightly self-absorbed. Not to mention time-consuming. Pete’s bone broth, for example, not only involves a commitment to drink, but it requires pure fortitude to make. A health nut friend tried it for a while and seemed to spend her life shopping for organic chicken carcasses and bones. Note, organic. Sustainably farmed. Not any old chicken and beef bones would do. And they had to simmer for hours before the real goodness could be flushed from said bones.

Anyone who can keep this ritual up forever deserves a medal. More importantly, they must be well-heeled. To truly follow the diets, one must preferably buy organic. My dear husband who is slightly on the gullible side with the odd food fad, is currently dabbling in Paleo. By dabbling I mean he’s cut out sugar and is drinking sludge. It started when told by a friend that berry and kale breakfast smoothies kept him alert and super-charged. Not any old berries, mind you, they had to be organic because ordinary blueberries were ‘doused with pesticides’.

Turns out organic berries are exactly double the price of their non-organic cousins.

The same applies to anything given the ‘organic’ blessing.

The real good news to emerge from all of this is that finally, my chocolate stash is quite safe. For now, it seems I can indulge in my daily fix all by myself. It may be short-lived. If history repeats itself, I give Kale Man two weeks max.

And as for Paleo Pete et al, I would take them with a hearty pinch of salt. Just make it Himalayan.

© Copyright Lois Nicholls 2015

Oil Spills No Tonic

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—When a day starts off really badly, I sometimes feel the most sensible option is to go straight back to bed. I say this with conviction as this week, I had not one but two major mishaps before the day had even properly begun.

First, I filled the steam iron with tonic water. Yes, tonic water. Should have drunk the gin and gone back to bed. The ironing board is permanently set up in the garage for easy access and ironing on demand. Tellingly, it is not a pastime I enjoy. The tonic water had been sitting there for some time, right next to the spare fridge that tends to freeze up. I only recalled later that I had removed the frozen bottle of tonic water some months earlier.

Hurrying as usual, I grabbed a shirt and eyeing the tonic water bottle, proceeded to top up the steam iron. Seconds later, an aroma best described as burnt toffee, wafted through the room. The iron then began spewing caramel-coloured liquid all over my clean shirt. Careful not to raise the alarm, I quietly rinsed out the caramel water and was rather relieved that the iron didn’t seem to have suffered any lasting damage. I simply retrieved a fresh shirt and continued as normal. As it turned out, it would take a tad longer to rid the iron of caramel residue.

Next I decided the slight ‘misfiring’ of my car engine was certainly an oil deficit. I know nothing about cars. As one of the three girls growing up in a household, I wish I’d listened when my dear dad was doing his seasonal oil change. The only technical car word I recall was ‘sump’.

I headed for the car and in my defense, this was probably one occasion where my family should have taken notice of what I was saying. I cheerily announced to no one in particular that I was “going to fill up the car with oil”.

As I later learned, you fill up a car with petrol and merely ‘top up’ with oil. That’s why there’s a marker on the dip stick. It’s meant to indicate when to stop. I filled it up like a kettle.

I felt quite emancipated until I drove my son to the bus stop and noted a slow trail of smoke wafting from the bonnet. Too embarrassed to stop, open the hood and pretend to know what I was looking for, I waved my bemused son and his mates goodbye and left under a cloud, as it were.

Still reluctant to reveal to the rest of the family that I may have permanently damaged a very valuable mode of ‘uni’ student transport, I did the next sensible thing after searching the entirely unhelpful car manual. I quietly Googled ‘what happens when you overfill a Yaris with oil’.

Good old Google – seems other dummies have done it too. Most of the commentary was not too encouraging. Engine damage ‘could’ result, said one. Another bright spark suggested sucking the excess out with a tube. This was the practical option I chose. I cut off a short length of garden hose and proceeded to suck. Surprise, surprise. There’s an obstructive metal plug that prevents such pastimes.

The only other alternative was draining the oil by locating that pesky little sump. Google called it a ‘sump plug’ and again, there are people out there in cyberspace looking for theirs too. I tried squeezing my head under the car to search for said ‘sump plug’ but the low carriage clearance was a little prohibitive.

Note to manufacturer: Make allowance for head under car. The obvious solution was to jack the car up. It was only now that my husband fortuitously lifted his head from his very important document and asked what the heck I was doing. Close call. It could have been a beautiful climax to a catastrophic morning – Yours Truly found squashed under the car, head positioned inches from the sump plug. Strangely, the car righted itself. Engine seems fine.

The heartening aspect of being ever so slightly dippy is that there are others out there with similar traits. I was relaying my dramas to a very trusted friend who, unlike many sensible people, can totally relate to the slightly offbeat episodes that plague me. In other words, things that don’t happen to the average ordinary person. Bless her.

She doesn’t, for example, ask why I didn’t just call RACQ. Or: did I not know that the tonic water was tonic water given that it was in a tonic water bottle? Near the fridge. As a fellow and perhaps a far nuttier nutter than myself, she always comes up with a far more rewarding story. For example, I told her about our Golden Orb spider that had taken up residence, complete with the resplendent web, in the inside corner of the front windshield. Unlike most families who would possible screech in unison and remove or squash the spider, it remained there for two days because no one wanted to break its beautiful web. That’s not normal.

My friend, whom I’ll call Sally, on account of work colleagues regarding her as the picture of efficiency and normality, didn’t flinch. Just that week she had had a run in with a different sort of creature. She had pulled on her jeans in a hurry, noting that they were a little tight from a recent indulgent holiday. While seated in the car with her family she felt something wriggling near her thigh.

With great difficulty and hysteria, on account of her constricting pants, she managed to grab hold of the wriggling creature while frantically sliding her other hand down her jeans.

Screeching, she revealed to all that she thought there was a cockroach in her jeans. With great difficulty and hysteria, on account of her constricting pants, she managed to grab hold of the wriggling creature while frantically sliding her other hand down her jeans. “I pulled out a gecko,” she said, deadpan. Of course, she did. Better than knickers. She’s done that too.

She’s also been party to her husband’s car careering into the fence of an unsuspecting family’s home. Police were called. When my car rolled down the hill sans handbrake, it was only a gentle incline, so it simply ramped the curb, scared the daylight out of a man walking his dogs, and stopped by itself. While it’s always comforting to have someone with whom to share such stories, there are times I’ve wondered about some familial link.

My mother did, after all, once hurriedly open the left-hand double garage door to reverse her car, forgetting she was parked in the right. It’s the only time I ever recall hearing my dad use the F-word. I’ve also pondered whether these quirks are not perhaps part of something more sinister. Like the dreaded ‘A’ word of the early onset kind. Seen the movie, Still Alice, read the book.

It does seem, however that I’m off the hook. I read an article recently that said the reason we lose our keys, vacantly put the shoe polish in the fridge or fill up our steam irons with tonic water (Ok, no one else has actually done this), is that we have too much going on in our brains. We have passwords, work agendas, school pickups, teacher interviews, texts to send, finances to juggle, emails to read, people to phone, stuff, stuff, stuff all going on in our overloaded grey matter. It’s no wonder we sometimes have a short circuit.

After some reflection, I decided that what the experts were really saying but were far too politically correct to reveal, was in fact that nutty was the new normal. I’m sticking with that.

© Lois Nicholls June 2015

Photo courtesy: http://www.schweppes.de/

The Menace in Tennis

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA―The Australian Tennis Open is finally over and after weeks of serious television overload, this tennis tragic will not be going near the box for a while―well, at least not until the French Open.

Together with the rest of Australia and the world, I’ve enjoyed every minute of this Grand Slam competition. However, one aspect of play has left a niggling bad taste―the sanctioned on court antics of certain players. Call me old fashioned, but smashing a racket on court and hurling expletives isn’t behaviour that should be applauded.

Firstly, my practical mother side is thinking: That’s one expensive racket―perhaps it could have been donated to some poor up and coming player or even better, auctioned off for charity. And then, there’s the confused realization that not everyone seems to find this behaviour shocking. The tantrum player in question is one of Australia’s up-and-coming tennis stars, Nick Kyrgios. He’s a really likeable guy off-court but someone needs to tell him it’s not right to smash rackets and use vile swear words when things go wrong. Kids are watching.

Are we so politically correct that not even umpires have the balls to admonish bad on court behaviour?

The normally outspoken commentator, Jim Courier did allude to the fact that the racket smashing incident should have been reprimanded but no-one mentioned it wasn’t quite cricket to swear―all the time. What really confused me was that Nick’s own mother later excused his behaviour with a smilingly indulgent explanation that: ‘How else was he meant to get rid of his frustration on court?’ or something along those lines. How indeed? Wash his mouth out with soap for starters. And are we so politically correct that not even umpires have the balls to admonish bad on court behaviour?

I’m wondering whether it’s open season for swearing simply at the Australian Open. Perhaps Australians are known to be a nation that doesn’t mind the odd swear word so players let rip. And it’s not an age thing. Kyrgios may be young and have a lot to learn from greats such as the always-poised Federer and Nadel, but Murray? Well, he should know better. Sunday’s Men’s Final against the composed No 1. Seed, Novak Djokovic had him in top form. Murray swore all the way through―he was having a f***ing field day.

His talented artist fiancé Kim Sears doesn’t mind the odd expletive either, it seems. She was caught on camera mouthing what appeared to be: “F***ing have that you Czech flash f***” during Andy’s tense match against No. 7 seed, Tomas Berdych. Looking at the slow motion footage, it didn’t look as though she was saying: “Well done, darling, you get him!” The press immediately loved her and some bright spark newspaper sub-editor came into his own with the headline: ‘Kim Swears’.

Kim’s father was equally forgiving. Dear Nigel Sears, proudly joked afterwards that his daughter: “always had a potty mouth—gets it from her mother of course”. And just in case we thought Kim herself may have been mildly repentant, she defiantly donned a sweatshirt with the words: ‘Parental Advisory. Explicit Language’ boldly emblazoned for cameras to see at last night’s final. Her point? “F**k off, I’ll swear as much as I like.” And the Tweeters adored her for it.

Again, perhaps it’s an age thing but I remember my mum saying that even the most beautiful girl or handsome boy can suddenly become rather unappealing when ugly expletives emanate from their mouths. Kim is certainly a beautiful girl. I commented on exactly that many times until she swore at Tomas.

I once asked a respected tennis coach what he thought of the grunting, screeching, swearing and racket throwing that seemed to be part and parcel of today’s professional tennis. He believed the fundamental problem lay at grassroots level.

Coaches should be teaching up and coming players that it’s not OK to smash your racket, screech or swear on court.

“Coaches should be teaching up and coming players that it’s not OK to smash your racket, screech or swear on court. They should refuse to coach them until they behave. Only then will they learn that on-court bad behaviour is unacceptable.”

A last word of caution: Wimbledon and its imminent royal entourage is coming up too. Please clean up your act before then players, because Her Majesty, the queen will certainly not be amused.

© Jessamy Owen 2015

For the love of Toyota

WE’RE ALL SET for our annual camping holiday and in the midst of it all, our trusty Toyota Prado circa 2000, perhaps in a covertly defiant act of consolidation with Toyota’s workers, has decided to give up the ghost.

It hasn’t entirely broken down, but personally, the air-conditioning suddenly only working on number four-speed and sounding like a tractor is tantamount to giving up the ghost. We are in the midst of a Queensland summer, after all. We have a rich history with our workhorse. It has endured the craters of Fraser Island tracks, several camping trips to remote areas of Moreton Island and Stradbroke Islands, a few family road trips to Sydney and more.

It has also pulled lantana out of our creek, bears the scars of my then three-year-old daughter’s artistic swirls with a disco ball on the tinted windows. It has been hailed upon, scratched by overhanging trees, dodged kangaroos … and all the while, its air-conditioning has soldiered on, giving us a reprieve on those long, hot trips.

The good news is that a new fan will fix the problem. The bad news is that the spare part will not arrive before we leave. Alas, cramming a family of five plus camping gear into my little run-around Yaris will be impossible. The family announcement that we will be travelling three hours to our destination trapped inside what boils down (no pun intended) to the bowels of a tractor engine has not been met with great glee by our teens. My attempts at reminding them all that this is the stuff of which memories are made, has fallen on deaf ears. Visions of National Lampoons Vacation come to mind …

We have attempted a little humour – even suggested we hire the preposterous sign language imposter from Mandela’s memorial because we certainly won’t be able to hear each other speak. A friend suggested loud music but we’re not talking gentle white sound here, we’re talking full-throttle tractor!

I am painfully reminded that perhaps I am not destined for car comfort. Years ago, as a young reporter, I also happened to drive a Toyota – an old green Ute nicknamed The Green Mamba. It was fairly trustworthy if it were not for the passenger door which flew open when I went around corners. My safety mechanism was a belt tied around the passenger handle and I’ll never forget the look on my colleague’s face when I forgot to tell her to hold on.

My love affair with Toyota’s, however, endured. It turned out South African thieves liked them too. I optimistically bought a Corolla which was stolen in broad daylight outside my work one morning even with steering wheel lock firmly in place.

So I changed to Datsun’s – one of which was bright orange Datsun 120Y nicknamed ‘Fanta Spew’ for obvious reasons. So popular was that one that I had locals hopping off buses at stop streets and begging me to sell.

I finally gave in and sold before it was stolen and bought another Datsun in a less conspicuous colour or popular model. Thieves gave me a reprieve of three months before they stole that one. I had a flutter with an Opel Cadet and a Renault as thieves apparently didn’t like those, and then finally acquired the love of my life, a vintage Datsun Sunny 1000.

While not exactly a getaway car, it was quaint, quirky and a match made in heaven. It was faithful right up until it caught fire while I was driving. A passing cyclist helped put out the flames but I’m afraid, that my last encounter with my adorable vintage car.

I felt as though I had come home when we settled in Australia and bought our Toyota Prado. Here was a  reliable car that would not be stolen in this safe-haven and could possibly outlive the dog. And it looked set to do that at just over 270 K on the clock and not missing a beat – until the air-con fan died, that is.

All I have to say is Toyota, please don’t go!

There’s one happy camper that still needs you …

© Lois Nicholls

This article appeared in The Courier Mail, 25th December 2013

Christmas Countdown

THE LEAD UP TO CHRISTMAS never fails to leave me a little sweaty-palmed and panic stricken as I wonder aimlessly around packed shopping centres, a jarring rendition of Jingle Bells ringing in my ears.
School and work commitments escalate during this heady count down and before I know it, it’s Christmas Eve with precious little time to prepare. I’ve always envied those who start planning in January. The elite (and slightly smug) few who manage to grab bargains all through the year so they don’t join a last minute seething mass of humanity all sporting similar expressions of: “It can’t be Christmas already, surely?”

Of course, eventually, I always get into the swing of things. Lights are strung, the Christmas tree dressed (this year joined with duct tape on account of our fat cat snapping the trunk while climbing its lofty heights),  and in a flurry of creativity I even made a rustic grass wreath to adorn my outdoor table.

Photo © Journonews.com

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have panicked at all. I was inadvertently swept along by the media frenzy and commercialised messages audaciously revealing how many shopping days were left. In reality, my gift list was relatively lean, food aside. My family live in South Africa so, given the dubious history of missing parcels, and the predicted mail meltdown following Madiba’s death, Christmas cards sufficed.  American cousins visiting for Christmas requested Australian memorabilia – easy.

My own children’s wishes were a little more eclectic.  My daughter listed a ukulele, a bag of lychees, a couple of mangoes and a pomegranate. Before labelling her a fruit loop, I decided her self- imposed ’austerity measures’ either stemmed from her parents lamenting the high cost of school fees, or from her being  genuinely in tune with the economic mess in which the world found itself. I suppose I can be grateful it wasn’t a partridge in a pear tree.

My husband was content with “five matching pairs of socks”.

My eldest son casually mentioned “well … I’d quite like to buy a new camera lens …” He clearly hadn’t overheard the school fee conversation. My youngest  showed interest, (among other weapons) in a Bear Grylls Knife he assured was only for felling trees and  warding off a possible brown snake attack while sleeping in his neighbouring friend’s bush cubby. My husband was content with “five matching pairs of socks”.

Gifts aside, a mild panic also arises when I think of the long, looming holiday ahead. As I observe my teens becoming a little restless, I’m soberly reminded that bar one week of the holidays, the remainder will be spent at home with two wrestling for the remote and the third asking who has finished the yoghurt she hid behind the cauliflower.

Admittedly, they will all be intermittently out earning their keep in various jobs including serving fish and chips, dog sitting and selling beachwear in a trendy city store. It’s the gaps in-between that are vaguely concerning. The hot, humid endless Queensland summer days where staying indoors in air conditioning is the only sane way to survive.

But as past experience shows, I know it will all come together wonderfully and in the messy, sweaty ensuing weeks we will all find our rhythm and savour this precious time together.  I will remember why I love the Christmas season and how truly blessed we are to be together.

And in the midst of this mad rush towards the finish line, far beyond the tinsel and tired jingles will be the poignant reminder that without Christ at its centre, it’s not Christmas at all.

Merry Christmas!

© Lois Nicholls

Let us grow old without the guilt

IN MY MOTHER’S ERA, middle-aged women were content to be middle-aged women.

They wouldn’t dream of trying to fit into their teenaged daughter’s jeans or befriending her friends on Facebook, if there was such a thing back then. I remember whispered concern about a particular woman who would walk miles to maintain a stick like figure, but mostly, women had a healthy approach to life. Manic walker aside, I don’t remember anyone looking like a whippet unless born that way, and there was no power walking with weights or hiring a personal trainer to work on ‘abs’. Cross-fit? That would be exercising with a bad attitude.

There were no gym junkies because there were no gyms and a weekly game of tennis was the sociable ‘exercise’ of choice. My mother had a friend called Lorna but she wasn’t a gym clothing icon, her surname was Smith, not Jane, and she made stuffed toys for the family’s farm stall instead of stylish sportswear for lithe bodies.

The more adventurous souls took up yoga when the fad hit my little country town, and I recall my nicely rounded mum proudly showing us how she could balance on her head on the lounge room carpet. She and her peers settled into middle age with an accepting sigh and laughed off a couple of gained kilos or a midriff that bore testimony to three children and a tad too many cream scones.

Surely kindness, compassion, humility, grace, love and a genuine bunch of friends we can laugh and cry with should be our goal instead of a narcissistic pursuit of perfection.

These women occasionally went on diet ‘on Monday’ after a particularly ‘naughty’ weekend of too much Chicken a-la king and Rhubarb Fool at Dorothy’s  (such a good cook!) but generally, everyone embraced their age without much fanfare. Well, that’s what is seemed anyway. Interestingly, they’ve mostly all reached a ripe old age of 80 and beyond.

Now that I’m seriously middle aged myself, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Some of my peers (you know who you are!), are buying into the idea that middle age is the new 30-something. Here’s a thing: It’s not. I don’t remember maintenance being part of my general beauty routine at 30. Nor did once perfect Cindy-esque moles start propagating – or eyebrows gain a life all of their own. And knee wrinkles? These pins were once an asset, for goodness sake.

One of the blessings in disguise about growing older is that the eyes grow dim just at a time when every minute detail needs attention (wayward hairs etc) before leaving the house. I say blessing, because soft focus is what I get when I peer in the mirror sans reading glasses. Even former model, Jerry Hall said she prefers to check her face in the mirror without glasses. That way, she remains an eternal supermodel, no air-brushing required.

It’s not that I am against the middle aged embracing health – I just don’t like them sharing their fads with me. By all means, limit your intake of processed carbs and the evil affliction of sugar. Feel free to partake in age-defying potions or even take up triathlons, just don’t let us lesser mortals know about it, particularly since we’ve just discovered macarons.

And anyhow, fresh from watching the French sub-titled movie, A Lady in Paris, I am certain, more than ever, that it’s the character, not the body we need to be working on. The embittered, lonely, acerbic, wealthy, glamorous and once-feted old woman at the heart of the story was reason enough to forget the body and hone character. Surely kindness, compassion, humility, grace, love and a genuine bunch of friends we can laugh and cry with should be our goal instead of a narcissistic pursuit of perfection.

And while this grumpy middle-aged woman is at it, please don’t do ‘selfies’ on Facebook. Leave that to teens. And don’t change your profile pic every week.  Enough said.  One more thing … I’m not advocating letting it all hang out, I walk regularly and eat healthily, I promise. I can even stomach quinoa once in a while. All I’m saying is please give us middle aged women a break. Let us eat, drink and be merry should we choose to do so. And let us grow old gracefully, guilt-free and graciously.

We’ve certainly earned it.

© Lois Nicholls

An edited version of this article appeared in The Courier Mail – Click to view.

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.