My Dating Double Life

HE called himself “Gregarious Guy” and my word was he witty…on paper. To put you in the picture, my internet dating profile goes a little like this: “Secret Agent…I could tell you the truth that I am secret agent Natascha from Minsk, but then I’d have to kill you. Let’s just pretend instead that I’m a down-to-earth Brissie girl…”

And I loved his response. “Dear Natascha, very clever to disguise yourself as a down-to-earth Brissie girl. I think the last time I met you was in Amsterdam on the M15 cover up job. Do you remember me? I had a moustache at the time. I would have loved to have taken you out for a drink but I was teamed up with that tall Armenian woman Rhona. She was a real handful! Yes, I am also stuck here in Brisbane. Those American idiots in the CIA will never think to look for us here. Let me take you out for a drink. Do you still have a weakness for Vodka?”

To writers, word play is like foreplay. Punctuation is our porn. And if you are any good at alliteration, I will have your children. And with Klaus, I was hooked. He had me at hello.

 And then we met. It was a cold, wet winter’s night more suited to secret agents than a slothful Brisbane girl who was slightly resentful at having to surrender her pajamas and hot water bottle for dress-up gear, but never let it be said I don’t give things a go. And so off I trotted into Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley to meet in a dimly-lit wine bar.

I was the first to arrive. I ordered a champagne and perched myself on a bar stool. I was aware I looked a little like a “working girl” waiting for a client. I tried not to look like a working girl. His first fatal error was he was late. I don’t care if you’ve just passed a kidney stone, you don’t turn up late for first dates or job interviews. In fact, a little early is pretty good in my opinion. There were so many opening lines he could have used, but instead, he stared right at me and simply said: “So, here you are.” I looked back awkwardly. “Yes, I am.” By this stage, I had almost finished my champagne, bar a drop. He walked to the bar, and ordered himself a drink. There was no offer for me, which wouldn’t have been quite so bad if “gregarious guy” wasn’t so dull. It occurred to me 5 minutes into the meeting that I’d need to be rather intoxicated to survive this evening.

He was 52. He spoke about power lines and moving back to live with his mother to save money. Red flags were jumping out all over the place. He told me about his second cousin. Forty-five minutes into the date, he asked me to dinner. By this stage, I was stone, cold sober.

“Yes, I am hungry but I’m going to go home as I’ve got an important meeting tomorrow,” I replied. And at the same moment I went to shake his hand, he went to kiss me in another of those awkward exchanges you wish you could erase. I dashed out of the bar and made my way home, starving. I stopped at my local Ceylon restaurant and ordered a champagne and a takeaway prawn curry.

“Where shall I sit while I’m waiting for my curry?” I asked the lovely waiter.

And right in the front of the restaurant full of diners he motioned towards a throne. A carved wooden throne. Perfect, I thought, climbing up onto the regal perch, careful not to spill a drop of champagne. I may have started out the evening as a secret agent (if you ignore that brief stint as a “working girl”), but at least I ended it as a princess.

As for Klaus, he texted three days later. He told me he loved my “energy” but didn’t feel any chemistry between us. Then he asked me out again.  I’d love to Klaus, really I would, but Natascha has been sent to Dubrovnik on assignment. Indefinitely.

Confessions of a Christmas Cougar



I HAVE a confession. Last night I took a photo of a bloke’s underpants when he wasn’t looking. He wasn’t wearing them at the time, in fact, he wasn’t even in the room. Let me start at the beginning. I was invited to celebrate Christmas in July at the house of a couple whom I had only met once before. Salt-of-the-earth people who opened up their hearth – there was a roaring log fire – and home to a crew of 10, to mark this festive mid-year point.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care and our handbags and winter coats were piled up in their 24-year-old son’s old bedroom. Which is where I came unstuck. Because along with our belongings, the son had left a few of his own, among which included an impressive collection of clean designer underpants. To put you in the picture, I had also met the son once before, and let’s just say, all of a sudden it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.


In my defence, the undies sort of leapt out at me. It wasn’t like I was rifling through his drawers or anything, if you’ll pardon the pun. I had gone into the spare room to collect my camera to take a photo of Miss Chris’ Christmas Cob Loaf. And out jumped the undies. I couldn’t resist. So I took a snap. While every other adult was out in the living room talking about politics, I’m in the spare room taking photos of underpants. In the spirit of Christmas I should also add I may have sprayed a bit of his deodorant on me as well.

We all sat down to dinner and it was at this stage our host pointed out that there were 12 of us around the table, like Jesus and his disciples. Oh, my God, I thought. He knows, he knows I’ve been in the spare room taking indecent shots of his son’s smalls. I felt like Judas, and it took everything for me not to shout out: “It was ME, I took a photo of HIS underpants,” pointing at the 24-year-old who had also joined us at the table.

Instead, I ate and participated in the polite conversation until I felt someone rubbing my leg under the table. I glanced at the son. He was looking intently in my direction. Ding, dong merrily on high. I smiled, coyly. He looked confused. I peeked under the table and there was Digger, the border collie, lounging against my leggings. I looked behind me. The son was watching the rugby on the television.

We ate my cob loaf, leek tarts with speck in bechamel sauce, a moist  turkey, steaming pork and roast vegetables drowned in duck fat gravy all washed down with copious red wine and boisterous banter. Dessert was delectable with strawberries and cherries dipped in chocolate and a hearty bread and butter pudding.



The son went home, taking the dog with him, both of them looking a little strangely in my direction on the way out. And I went home, tail between my legs but spirits high. What’s not to love about Christmas?

 Miss Chris’ Christmas Cob Loaf

 Buy a plain cob loaf from the bakery

Slice the top off the loaf and set it aside

With your fingers, pull out the insides of the bread in bite-size balls

Slice the sides of the loaf with a knife

On a stove top warm up 450g of frozen spinach

Add a packet of French onion soup (no water)

Add a large tub of extra light sour cream

Stir until all mixed well and bubbling

Pour into the centre of the loaf

Put the bite-sized bites of bread around the side

Put the lid of the loaf back on top

Serve with a flourish!


Something Saucy

MID winter in the southern hemisphere and I’m in search of something seriously sensual. Something to keep me warm on a brisk Brissie night. I’m on the hunt for the city’s sweetest, thickest and most authentic Italian…hot chocolate. A man wouldn’t go astray either.

One of the nicest things about globe trotting is increasingly you can find a little taste of your travels closer to home. I mean, it’s hardly 1970s country Queensland anymore, where mum would interpret spaghetti bolognaise as a plate of unseasoned mince and a bottle of tomato sauce on the table. I have been fortunate to have travelled to Italy a few times since the 70s to discover mum was a bit of a creative cook.

It’s funny what you remember about a trip, for me, it’s not the big things like the Colosseum, or the gondolas of Venice. It’s the people. One of my most memorable travelling moments was on a local bus in Rome, where I was sight-seeing with my boyfriend at the time. A young girl, who would have been all of age 5, looked at him, then looked at me, and asked: “Is he your lover?” It was at that moment I realised all Italians were born romantics.

It’s a saucy Saturday when I go in search of Brisbane’s best hot chocolate, Italiano style. Working on the theory when in Rome, do as the Romans do, I decide to combine my hunt for a man, with a dating rating for each establishment.

 Here’s my top three picks:

 Bean on Dean, Toowong: This relatively new addition to Brisbane’s café scene is perched unassumingly along Dean Street, Toowong, where I have it on good advice there’s also a massage parlour which specialises in “happy endings”. But it’s a sugar rush I’m seeking this morning, and it comes in the form of hot chocolate. This cuppa is thick like mud and is surprisingly slightly bitter, which might appeal to those who think traditional hot chocs are too sweet. In fact, it’s so thick, you eat this beverage more than drink it, which turns out be a somewhat erotic experience. I’m completely absorbed licking the spoon seductively when I catch the eye of an eight year old boy who is staring at me and frowning. Which pretty much sums up the talent here. Mums, kids and gorgeous gay couples. The hot chocolate, served only on Saturdays, costs $4 for a cup and $2 for a shot.

 Hot choc rating: 3/5

Dating Rating: 1/5

Bean on Dean, 45 Dean Street, Toowong (no website)

Schonell Pizza Café, St Lucia: Don’t let the laid-back student atmosphere, the takeaway cups or the plastic chairs here fool you. This hot chocolate is worth the trip across the river. Even the resident flock of Ibis seem to enjoy it. Amid the aroma of this establishment’s noteworthy pizzas, take the time to enjoy their version of this muddy Italian drink which is frothy like molten lava and has the consistency of custard. As so often happens in my wanderings, I catch the eye of a handsome man.  Two minutes later, his wife and child sit down next to him. If you like your men with money, on this particular day millionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer is sitting at the next table. There’s also plenty of handsome, though slightly youngish, foreign students. A small hot chocolate costs $4.10 and a medium $4.60.


Hot choc rating: 4/5

Dating Rating: 3/5

Gusto Da Gianni, Portside: The menu describes their version as thick, Italian style chocolate made with full cream milk and decadent Italian chocolate. And this drink doesn’t disappoint. Brisbane’s beautiful flock here and the vibe in this restaurant is gusto in both name and nature. The Italian waiters are fabulously flirtatious and the crowd is a mixture of couples, families and private function goers, where if you wait long enough, you’re bound to grab the attention of amorous party animal. The cuppa itself is sensationally sweet, and comes with a frothy white head. You could be forgiven for thinking you are in Naples, such is the atmosphere here, and let’s not forget the cool Italian Vespa parked out the front. For some home-grown talent, Brissie band member Jim Mathers from Lime Street and his gorgeous wife Pauline (we love Pauline) enter the restaurant on their way out to the theatre. The hot chocolate comes in only one size and costs $5.50


Hot choc rating: 5/5

Dating Rating: 4/5

Monday Bloody Meditation

MONDAY meditation and I dash to my den of zen. It’s been a bit of a tawdry week and my mind is as murky as the Brisbane River. A new woman in my class sits too closely to me. “I hope I’m not invading your personal space?” she asks. “No,” I smile, secretly planning to move her mat when she’s not looking. The only thing stopping me is I’m pretty certain it will get me expelled from my meditation class. I know her type: the kind of person where you can have the entire languid stretch of Coolangatta Beach to yourself, and she’ll plop her Disney cartoon characters towel right down next to you. And then she’ll light up a cigarette. For the sake of this tale, let’s call her Space Invader.

We begin our meditation and something strange is happening to me. Instead of feeling universal loving kindness, my body is being overcome by nausea. As our meditation deepens, so does my nausea. I start to panic, I have no idea where the bathrooms are. I doubt I can even make it to the door past the other bodies without being noticed. I consider throwing up in the bowl in which we’ve placed our meditation money. My teacher guides us to our head and asks us to concentrate. My head starts spinning and the room goes a little black. I break my mediation and sit with my head between my legs, panting like a woman in labor. I am hardly the poster girl for enlightenment.

But even more curiously, Space Invader seems to be going through her own unusual experience. Her stomach is bubbling and gurgling like a witch’s cauldron and I’m pretty sure there’s an alien in there trying to escape. In between waves of nausea I have to stifle the urge to burst out laughing. It’s a truly horrendous sound and it won’t stop.

We eventually finish our meditation and our teacher asks for feedback on our experience. Space Invader pipes up: “I don’t know why, and I didn’t feel sick, but I had an overwhelming urge to dash to the door and go outside and throw up.” Now I’m really freaked out. That will teach her for sitting too close to me and my demons. Spacey continues: “I’m currently fighting four wars.” Four wars? Who is this person, Napoleon? I know nothing about her personal battles, but her stomach has declared Jihad on itself.

I tell my teacher about my experience. She thinks I am “making progress”. If wanting to throw up in meditation is progress, I’d hate to see me run a marathon. Spacey, on the other hand, has proven an interesting point. Sometimes we don’t need to leave home to travel. Heck, if her tummy can channel the Taliban by merely meditating, I’d hate to let her loose on the world.

Back at home where I know the way to both the door and the toilet, and I can throw up on my own cash if I’m really desperate, a man who calls himself Aim and Fire sends me an email wishing to make contact. His profile states he wants to be “very, very naughty with each other and make 2012 the Year of Being Naked.”

And Spacey thought she had problems.

Where are all the fellas, Cinderella?

MY friend Tacky leans over and purrs in his American accent: “We both need to face it, you’re just not hot in the tropics.” We’re in Bali, drinking the lethal Indonesian rum the locals call Arak. I’m complaining to Tacky about the GFC (Global Female Crisis: a lack of men). Tacky is dead right. While I sweat bucket loads up in Singapore, I’m seriously not hot. Not in the dating sense. We both agree I’m a better version of myself south of the Equator, which tends to exclude a fair whack of the world.

 Singaporeans, it must be said, are even less tactful than Tacky. I wear a new red dress to work and stop at my local fruit seller “Ah, Chris, you look good in red lah, but don’t wear black, you look terrible in black.” In the lift, my Asian colleagues launch into a conversation about my weight. “Chris, you lose some weight can?” “Um, no, I haven’t lost any weight,” I reply awkwardly, while 8 sets of eyes fix firmly on my buttocks. “Yes, Chris not so fat, lah?” they discuss among themselves. My British mate Murray has a theory that after 2pm Ang Mohs or “red devils” as the Singaporeans like to call us, start to go off in the heat. Murray should know, he perspires so much he looks like he’s battling malaria every single day. He reckons we smell like vinegar. I come to the stinking realisation he is right. So, not only by Singaporean standards am I fat and poorly dressed, I now also pong. My theory isn’t helped when my boss decides to implement a seating reshuffle and positions me next to a Singaporean colleague. “I don’t want to sit near her,” my colleague announces to the meeting. Everyone, including me laughs. After the meeting she approaches me: “I wasn’t joking. I don’t want to sit near you.” I try to sniff my armpits without being caught.

 To escape the unwanted attention, I meet Tacky for a Balinese holiday. The locals call us Tom & Jerry. He’s Tom. They also think we are married but remain confused as to why we have separate rooms. Around this Indonesian paradise we roam, which I punctuate with intermittent moans: “Where are all the men?” Tacky suspects they are all in Kuta, one spot on the island to which he has refused to accompany me. “If you can’t find a man in Kuta you are seriously not trying hard enough,” he says, before waving me off with a final word of warning: “Just stay out of trouble.”

 I manage to do this for all of one hour. Right up until check-in at my hotel where I discover my booking has been cancelled. I’m a little bit tired, a little bit hot and a little bit ready to go home. I toss my passport onto the counter with a little more enthusiasm than usual. They give me a room key and someone else’s passport back in return. I intend to spend the rest of my days travelling the world as Natascha from Minsk. I’m convinced she has better luck with men than me.

 I wander the beach, witness a fiery beach funeral ceremony, drink icy cold beer and have a head massage. I frolic in the first surf I’ve seen in many, many months and read a “penny dreadful” as my great, great grandmother used to call romance novels. I have one afternoon to live it up before I return to Singapore. I feel like an escaped prisoner on the lamb. I linger over some lychee martinis before wandering down to the main drag of Kuta. It’s loud and lively and before long I’m dancing in a Reggae bar where brash Balinese “rent boys” rub their bodies against me. It dawns on me that I have become one of those sad women who dance to Bob Marley while attracting young male prostitutes in foreign bars. All I need now is a floral kaftan and a bad sunburn. Tacky’s words linger in my ears. “Don’t get into trouble.” I walk home alone and am offered sex and drugs, both of which I politely refuse to the dodgy dude on the motorbike in the dark back alley in which I find myself. I run all the way back to my hotel room and lock the doors. I picture waking up with a dead body beside me, half a dozen Indonesian police standing by my bed, and no plausible explanation for what has happened.

 I fly back into Singapore. I’m in search of its soul but so far, all I can find is sweat. On a bright note, I never need to shop for vinegar again.



The Goddess has arrived

IT’S 5am at Queen Alia Airport in Amman, Jordan, shortly after the Muslim call to prayer. And all I’m feeling is the call to Muslim man. I’ve travelled some 25-plus hours from Brisbane, via Bangkok to the Middle East and have landed with hair that resembles a sucked mango and a mouth which feels like a colony of bats are seeking asylum inside my throat.  But I can’t resist. The Arabs, both male and female, are so handsome, it’s like I’ve arrived in a parallel universe. I attempt to say hello “Salam wa aleikum” but all that comes out of my mouth is a strangled sound, and a little bit of spit. Fuelled by sleepless delirium and excitement at being back in the Middle East after nearly two decades, I ask our guide to translate to the Immigration Officer the question of whether he would like a wife. “Wait one year” comes the reply. I’m so jetlagged, I’m unsure whether I should simply stand to the side of his counter for the next 365 days or actually come back after I’ve done a few more things with my life. My travelling party rolls its collective eyes:  it’s classic Goddess.

Let me be clear: a Goddess, I am not. I’m not even Bridget Jones, more like her daggy underpants themselves. I inherited this nickname last year when I was working in Singapore, sweating out my body weight each day along the Equator, while living in Little India. The Indians there seemed to adopt a curious attraction to me, so the name arrived and stuck, as nicknames tend to do. The Global bit comes from the fact I’m a travel writer, who seems to uncanningly find herself hunting for a husband while simultaneously foraging for a story. Let’s just say, I always come home with a story.

I’ve told my friends I’m “on assignment” in the Middle East. Heck, I’ve even packed my khaki pants, just in case some mystery editor calls me up to jump over the border and cover the strife in Syria. The fact the only shoes I’ve packed are thongs shows how serious I am taking the idea of being a war correspondent. And thus instead, my travelling party and I head to the Dead Sea.

Across the salty water sits Israel. Jericho to be precise. If I squint into the sunshine, my 41 year old self dissolves and I can picture my 25 year old backpacker self, with the boyfriend who would become my husband and then my heartbreak. The image is like a mirage. But sad, I am not. Resilient, foolhardy, passionate…yes. And ready to take on the world again.

I wake up each day to find three waiters battling over who will bring me my morning coffee. I end up drinking three different cups of coffee to appease all three. I suspect I shall miss this when I wake up next week in Brisbane. The next day, my guide informs me: “Tomorrow night you will see a man dance in the desert.” “A man!” I practically shout, “and what does this man do?” I ask, barely able to contain myself, expecting something erotic and exotic in equal measure. “Not a man,” comes the reply “Amman dance.” The dance is pretty good for something non-erotic. The Arabs possess charm in spades. It continues when I go to buy batteries for my camera. “Your lips are like honey,” the dapper shopkeeper says, “I can see Sydney in your eyes.” I don’t have the heart to tell him Sydney is 1000km from Brisbane, so I would have to be Wonder Woman and not just an ordinary Global Goddess, to be able to possess this special trait.

We continue on to Petra, the desert of Wadi Rum, the Red Sea and then home. I’m right, there are no handsome Arabs making my morning cup of Joe when I wake up in Brisbane. But a bloke who calls himself Ford Falcon has contacted me and wants a date…