Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ding dong meltingly on high

I'm a Southern Hemisphere person.  I thought I knew a bit about summer Christmas.  But Christmas here was hot.

Our celebrations started on Christmas Eve evening with a stroll down the road to see the local version of houses decorated with Christmas lights.  Here it is the canal houses who pimp themselves up, but only on the side facing the water.  Mandurah's canals are very much private space; there certainly aren't footpaths along the edges of the canals like the ones in various European cities.  Therefore the best way to view the Christmas lights is by boat and hundreds of people do every night, either in their own boats or by going on a canal cruise.
We don't have a boat.  We just walked around the streets with our torches and crept onto various vacant blocks of land to view the sights. 

The "style" of most of the canal houses is not to my taste.  Walking by some of the more outlandish ones in daylight tends to make me suck in air over my teeth.  However that night I was determined to enjoy the spectacle and enjoy it I did.

It was a gloriously balmy evening.  There was no denying the festive atmosphere as dozens of boats chugged past with their excited young passengers shrieking "Happy Merry Christmas!".  The lights were as kitschy and tacky yet inexplicably enjoyable as any I've seen.  Then for ridiculously perfect icing on the cake, two dolphins started frolicking around in front of us.

On Christmas morning I was woken at 5am by a very excited boy.  He was right to be excited as Santa had visited. (Given that this is Mandurah I doubt Santa pansied around in a quadruped-powered sleigh.  Mandurah's style is more metallic-pink stretch Hummer limo.  With a musical horn.)  Santa had left a few small presents for each of the children and a couple of big presents for the family to share.

Yes, we now have boats.

We spent Christmas morning down at the estuary trying not to drown ourselves. The children's father isn't able to kayak yet but their aunt and I harassed the children from the shore by calling out "Is it our turn yet?".

The temperature crept up and up and up. The Fremantle Doctor had a day off on Christmas Day. Instead the paint-strippingly vicious easterly desert wind got stronger and stronger and the day got hotter and hotter. By late morning the temperature headed for the late thirties and we headed home.

It was too hot to cook. It was too hot to eat.  It was too hot to drink alcohol.  It was too hot to tolerate the person who kept singing "Ding dong merrily on high".  He was made to desist.

The temperature hit 40 degrees.  I kept walking around the house trying to find the coolest place (which is lying on the tiled laundry floor).   It was too hot to care about decency or style; in true Australian style our underwear magically became OK as outerwear.  It was too hot to care about our poor old planet.  We turned the air con on.

Slowly we became human again and eventually delved into the fridge.  Between us all we made a simple but delicious meal of Tasmanian salmon.

We dressed for dinner.  For my sister this meant hauling on an elegant dress, for my partner it meant donning his 1970s safari suit, for me it meant fifties floral frock over damp swimsuit, for my son it meant his new Christmas T-shirt and for my daughter, well

she says she dressed as a Christmas tree.  (No shoes because she'd left one of her criminally-ugly plastic shoes outside on the paving stones and it melted and shrunk two sizes.) I thought "Ding dong misguidedly on high". 

And that if I don't get that maddening song out of my head soon,  it'll be a case of "Ding dong murderously on high".

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Birthday to me

My birthday is a few days before Christmas and as a result it is usually an almighty dud.  It is either spent in a last-minute frenzy of end-of-year/end-of-school/end-of-work/pre-Christmas nonsense or, if we've headed off on helliday early, it is often spent in a road-side layby wiping puke off a child and the back seat of the car. 

I'm a big girl and I can handle it.  Given that my partner is still recovering from his health dramas I had fully expected that my birthday this year would be another complete non-event.  Never mind.  My dream birthday would be something like this.

Get lent the use of a beautiful house in the bush in a gorgeous part of the world that I'd never been to before.

Wake there to coffee in bed and delivery of fabulous presents.

Be driven around by my sister to scenic spots and galleries.  Head back to the house for a delicious lunch followed by a stroll in the bush

 to spot lizards,

butterflies, kangaroos, dozens of birds (including two types of black cockatoos) and various interesting insects.

Head indoors to consult "The Book" to try to identify the creatures we've just seen then have a chapter of a new novel and a nana-nap. 

Head to the local icecreamery for an afternoon-tea treat from my son. 

Have a stroll on the beach then back to the house for my partner's fancypants home-cooked dinner of local produce accompanied by Margaret River wine.  Watch a stupid sitcom and laugh myself silly with my children then head off to bed for another chapter of the new book.

And that is exactly how my (fabulous) birthday went this year. We stayed in the bush near Dunsborough and explored there and Yallingup and Margaret River. Sometimes I just love being wrong.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Just for fun

As if the rivers, estuaries and numerous Indian Ocean beaches weren't enough to tempt us into the water, a new attraction has arrived in town.  Just 4 Fun Aqua Park is an inflatable obstacle course which sets up camp on Mandurah's Western Foreshore for the summer. There is an area for little children,

an area for children aged up to 99,

plus some pedal boats.

Yesterday my children and their water-sports-loving aunt took it on.

It was pretty hard work for the least able swimmer in the group but between his aunt and an attentive and helpful park assistant he still had a fabulous time. They swam, slid, bounced and catapulted each other into the water. They had a lot of fun and are keen to go back for more.

Auntie N had already swum around Australia that morning with a local sea-swimming group (OK, slight exaggeration) but still had the energy to help my son between the various obstacles and push and haul him onto them numerous times.

And for the millionth time since she arrived here I thought, what a winner.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bad budgies

Some turkey has been ransacking our tomatoes.  Every morning when the children head outdoors hoping to return with ripe juicy garden bounty for their school lunchboxes, they instead find tomatoey scenes of wanton destruction.  Tomatoes big, small, green and red lay pecked and lost to us. "Bad budgies!" we say.

Then we found evidence.

Then we caught the culprit red-clawed.

It wasn't a turkey or a budgie but an Australian Ringneck Parrot or Twenty-Eight as they are commonly called.  My wildlife book states that they are "very common" which is true, but I think that with their iridescent green wings, necklace of bright yellow and sapphire-tipped tail that they are uncommonly beautiful.

It merrily balanced on one leg while it held one of my tomatoes in the other and continued to chomp away.  It looked at me several times as I crept closer with my camera and let out its shrill call which supposedly sounds like "twenty-eight!" but never does to me.

From the (skankier and skankier) lawn its two pals (a fifty-six) gave the same shrill call as they foraged for seed.

I added "netted garden area" to our extensive house-shopping wish-list but I found it hard to get grumpy as:
a) I am from New Zealand and parrots, in my garden = cool!
b) I have a thing about birds who stand on one leg, and

c) today their call sounded just like "Thanking youuuu! Thanking youuuu!" and I am a sucker for good manners.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fremantle Doctors

It has been a big week.  We knew it was going to be, and planned for it, and everything has gone to plan, but it is still one of those big weeks I'll never forget and hope to never repeat.

My partner spent five nights up in Fremantle.  I stayed there the first night too then travelled up and back to visit him every day via the least-scenic coastal route imaginable.  One day I'll make that hour-long journey slowly and stop and photograph the many interesting sights on the way but in the meantime just trust me when I say that it is like a road-trip version of Robin Boyd's book The Australian Ugliness.  Here is a wee Worst of Perth-worthy taster (children and delicate flowers should not click on that link).

In case you are wondering how I managed to abandon home and children and spend so much time up in Fremantle, well that was possible because someone sent me another top-notch care package; my mother posted my sister over.

I was happily made redundant in my own home while my sister played nanny/house-keeper/cook and tootled around Mandurah in my new wheels.

Many times throughout those five days in Fremantle I would escape from the building my partner was in and head out into the world to hunt for food and get some exercise.  Then I would often encounter the wonderfully cooling and welcome afternoon breeze that wafts in from the sea most hot summer afternoons. It is known locally as the Fremantle Doctor, The Freo Doctor or just The Doctor.

Well we may get that gorgeous sea breeze in Mandurah too, but there are many, many other gorgeous things in Fremantle that we simply (and sadly) do not have in Mandurah.  If I'd had a tiny dog with me as I excitedly explored Fremantle I would have said "Tinydog, I've a feeling we're not in Mandurah anymore."

I found characterful old buildings, stunning new buildings and best of all given my taste, stunningly-recycled characterful old buildings.

I found seven museums, The (excellent) Fremantle Arts Centre,

plus numerous other art galleries and exhibitions. At every turn I met interesting people then in one case I trotted down the road and saw their work in a ridiculously up-my-alley exhibition (Beyond Garment).

But best of all given my extreme disappointment at the shopping situation in Mandurah, I found enticing shop after enticing shop.  I found op shop alley, one-off clothing boutiques, heavenly handmade emporiums, deliciously tempting designer wares and - following the napkin-drawn directions of the cool chick who shared my café table one lunch-time - a huge array of second-hand shops from retro to vintage to antique.

Add to that the fact that just wandering the streets is fun as the houses and gardens are so cool and eclectic.

Toss into the mix the fact that Fremantle has numerous excellent cafés and the best coffee I've had since I moved to Australia.  Imagine a big-flat-sunny-Lyttelton or a toasty-tidy-Newtown-on-Sea and if you know me you'll understand why I quickly fell deeply in love with Fremantle.

So while my partner had his health restored by a variety of Fremantle doctors, nurses and other amazing people, I had my spirit restored by fantastic Fremantle, aided on my way by the other Fremantle Doctor.  And to any friends planning to visit us here, rest assured that Sisters Shopping Tours are now well and truly back on the menu.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An early bird's mystery tour

I am not usually an early bird.  I am usually a night owl and therefore often a foul fowl until at least my first coffee of the day.  But there is no daylight saving in WA (a mystery to me) and by 5am the light is streaming through our uncurtained and uncurtainable rented bedroom window.  So I push thoughts that I am turning into my mother out of my mind, get up, and go for a walk.

Even though it is early I first slap on some sunblock - it is a mystery to me why so many people still believe in the myth of the "nice, healthy tan".  Since moving here I've seen enough noseless old ladies, earless old men and cornflake-skinned people of all ages to know that there is no such thing.

Today I did a swift lap around the perimeter of the local golf course which gives a pretty typical taste of what it looks and feels like around here, including a few pretty mysterious things.

First mystery is the width of the streets.  They are barely two cars wide.  There is no space for parking on the road but the enormous verges are usually plumbed in with "retic" (reticulated sprinkler systems) so folk get mighty grumpy when you park on them.  At Open Homes (known here as Home Opens) I've given up asking "where would all our guests park when we have a party?" because then I inevitably get the agent's best "you're a crazy lady!" look.  I get that look a lot here.  It is still a mystery to me where our hypothetical party guests would park at any of the three hundred and twenty seven Home Opens we've viewed so far.

Just along from here a man popped out from behind some bushes and bellowed "what's the camera for?"  How I resisted giving him a smartypants answer is a mystery. His sprinklers were on full blast in his lush, thirsty, tropical garden even though today is not his allocated one day a week to water. As a water-wise gardener I met here puts it "this town has more palm trees than you can wave a chainsaw at".  Given that the native wildflowers of this region are unbelievably beautiful, attract visitors from all over the world and once established and mulched need almost no watering, it is a complete mystery to me why there are so few in suburban gardens.

Typical house on my side of the hill: brick, tile, pink driveway, lawn, retic.

Typical house on the other side of the hill: McMansion usually with all manner of garden statuary. I thought the style of Carbo's house on Packed to the Rafters was just some set designer's joke until I moved here.  It's no joke.  Carbo has lots of houses here; he even has whole suburbs! Mystery.

Every walk is chock full of wildlife sightings including at least a dozen species of birds, thousands of black millipedes crossing the footpath towards the dry, hundreds of tiny albino snails crossing the path towards the shade and kangaroos grazing in any vacant sections.  Sadly the only shingleback lizards I've seen so far have been squished on the road.  One house always has a grumpy-faced cat on the driveway and loads of ibis on the roof.  The most we've counted is fourteen.  They are only ever at this one house.  Mystery.

I spot another ibis having a mysterious moment of its own - "but is it art?"

At the top of the hill I solve the mystery of that house with the strange attic extension,

and get a glimpse of sea.

I spot an interestingly named boat (at another Carbo's house) and could not agree more as by now I'm hot, sweaty, and harassed by hundreds of tiny flies trying to feast in my mouth, on my eyeballs and up my nostrils. Time to head downhill towards home.

Spot a house with multi-coloured brickwork and a dolphin ornament and wonder Whywouldya?

Oh that is my rental house.  Best go in and put a pot of coffee on so I'm a bit less foul by the time the rest of the family get up in only another hour and a half.