Live, love, learn

SHE’S 92, as fit as a fiddle and as smart as a whip snake. She’s funny, sassy, and on the ball. Except for one thing. She’s blind from macular degeneration and she sports a broken heart. Not much she can do about either. Except carry on.

I met Mrs D this week during the course of my job. Sometimes as journalist, when you wade through the quagmire of crap that’s delivered to your lap, and peer beyond the press releases and pitches, you find a gem. Mrs D was pure gold.

We weren’t meant to meet. Or maybe we were. It was a simple phone interview to talk about her school reunion, draping herself in the old school tie, or ties as they may be, after 75 years. But once it became apparent she could not see, was not internet savvy, and had no way of sending me photos of herself, I was given the privilege of visiting her at her home.

She greeted me with a python-like hug. “I’m so glad to meet you,” she said, not quite looking at me, as she couldn’t see me, just perhaps maybe my form. She looked 62, not 92. And she sported a wicked wit. She spoke with great pride of her grandchildren, one in Paris, another in Antarctica. The one in Antarctica has a girlfriend, Jessica, working as surveyor on a mine in Queensland’s Cloncurry. Mrs D wasn’t quite sure what to make of Jessica at first. “I wondered what kind of girl she would be, but then she turned up and she was tinier than me. I fell in love with her.” So much so, that Mrs D declined to comment on the fact her grandson and Jessica were “living in sin” in case “they didn’t talk to me anymore”. I couldn’t imagine that ever happening with this pocket rocket. Mrs D so loves Jessica, she ensures that each time she’s in Brisbane, even without the grandson who is still in Antarctica, she plans a family dinner. “She’s such a lovely girl, we want to keep her in our family,” Mrs D said.

I told Mrs D that she looked superb for 92. “That’s the good thing about not being able to see,” she said, “you can’t see all your wrinkles,” she smiled, nimble fingers stroking her face.

But among the bunches of lavender on her table and the crocheted doilies, this wasn’t what struck me the most. It was the love she still held for her husband, Nick, who died in 1994. “I never imagined I could live this long without him,” she had told me earlier in the day. It was the first time during the interview I detected a change in her voice. On the other end of the line, salty, pesky tears stung my eyes.

You see, Mrs D once worked in a bank. That’s where she met Nick. They became engaged and married during World War II and went on to live in Townsville where she worked with Qantas, as a clerk, until “peace was declared and the boys came home from the war.”

She still lunches a few times a year, at Brisbane’s Sofitel Hotel, with three of the surviving staff members from her bank days. “There were eight of us, but most of them are gone,” she said.

Her older sister and younger brother have also died. “It’s a terrible thing. You miss that link with your family,” she said.

But most of all, she misses Nick.

“Every night I have a glass of champagne, and I raise that glass to the empty seat beside me to keep his memory alive,” she said.

Love. It’s a many splendoured thing. Mrs D knows it. And I think we all do, too.




Wagging my school reunion

My first ever school case, circa 1976

FEW of you would believe it, but at school, I was a Goodie Two Shoes. I received great marks (except in maths which we all know is a waste of time), was part of the popular girl group they called “the brains”,  and pretty much sailed through unscathed. Well, that was high school. And that was quite a feat given I went to one of the roughest schools in Australia. Even our school motto, translated from its Latin origin, said it all: The Promise of a Better Age. Reading between the lines I took that to mean as soon as we left that dump, life would get better. And it did.

Which is why I don’t understand why people say things like “your school years are the best of your life”. Or more so, why they feel the need to get together every quarter of a century to commemorate those tawdry times of pimples and puberty. And it seems neither do most of The Class of 1987. Out of some 200 students, 12 have signalled they will be going tonight. In fact, it’s been downgraded from a reunion to a “get together” back in the old town which is as cold as Antarctica mid winter, and as hot as hell, but nowhere near as interesting, in summer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in awe of those who are going tonight, who feel they can sum up the past 25 years in a few hours. I, on the other hand, always feel a little like Alice in Wonderland when she says: “Sometimes I believe in six impossible things before breakfast.” So I know I couldn’t possibly find a way to capture the past quarter of a century. (As an aside, Mr Wilcox, if you happen to be reading this and are single, call me?)

Our school, let me reiterate, was a dump. It was more like a juvenile detention centre than an educational institution where every week, the entire 1500 inmates had to be evacuated due to bomb scares from former pupils who hated the joint as well. It wasn’t the bomb scares that worried me, it was more when they occurred. You’d be spending Friday afternoon in a double economics class wishing against all hope that Barry the Bomber would make his weekly call. And this was the day before button phones, so Barry would have had quite a sore dialling finger, hence the fact he only rang once a week. Suffice to say, should anyone ever call up with a bomb threat wherever I am in the world, I have the evacuation down to a fine art. So, I guess I did learn something at high school.

Primary school was another matter altogether. I went to one of the smallest primary schools in Australia, out in a one pub/one horse town in the Queensland countryside. To give you an example of how small, we had only two teachers, and most of the grades were combined, so at one point in time, I was in the same classroom as all of my 3 older sisters. I did, however, receive a sterling education, as there was no where to hide in a school that small.

My three older sisters and me (I’m the blonde sitting in the front)

What I also received was an education on bullying. But this was 1970s country Australia, so no one had any idea what bullying was back then. Except I knew it was wrong. There are two key figures who featured largely in my life on that score. The first was my teacher, who looked like the greyhound racing dogs he owned and perpetually sniffed like a cocaine user. For the sake of this story, let’s call him Cokehead Greyhound. Cokehead Greyhound was a mean man who picked on the smaller kids such as myself, and had a raging war with my mother over which dictionary I should be using. I was the middle man in this battle, so would arrive at school every day with a different dictionary, which old Cokehead would hold up to the rest of the class, sneer and announce: “Look what the Global Goddess has bought in today everyone”, simultaneously making the rest of the class laugh, and humiliating me. This went on for a week until I finally begged mum to buy the specific dictionary he required. I was so happy the day I turned up to school with the dictionary, as I thought the bullying would stop. He took one look at the dictionary, declared we weren’t using it any more, and found something else about me to target.

My other nemesis was a large, dark haired, freckly girl who modelled herself on the 1970s Australian Prison Drama Prisoner. For the sake of this tale, let’s call her Queen Bea. To cut many long humiliating moments short, Bea thought it would be a hoot to pull my skirt down in front of the entire class to reveal my comfy, colourful undies. I can still hear her evil cackle that day. Proving that God has a sense of humour, Bea went on to work in child care, marry a model, and now also looks like a model, or so I’m told.

As for me, I still like comfy, colourful undies, which I will be wearing tonight when I think back on those school days, glass of red wine in hand, delighted that they are behind me.

The powerful documentary Bully, about the power and destruction of bullying, will be released in Australian cinemas on August 23.


Good Vibrations

HAVING just finished the Fifty Shades trilogy and looking for my next buzz, I’ve just been to the movies to watch Hysteria. For those who haven’t seen it yet, it’s a delightful British romantic comedy set in the 19th century, which focuses on female orgasms and the ultimate arrival of the vibrator’s place in history. Based on a true story, women who suffered from an array of “symptoms” from being too outspoken to being sexually frustrated, were relieved of their condition or “hysteria” by manual stimulation to their genitals to the point of climax. When Doctor Mortimer Granville found his hand was cramping due to the huge spurt (if you’ll excuse the pun) in demand for his services, he stumbled across what would become the first vibrator.

Hysteria as a diagnosis was eventually put to bed, so to speak, in the 1950s, which in my opinion is a bit of a shame, given I have been known to suffer from being both outspoken and sexually frustrated often at the same time and on a number of occasions and would happily have a good-looking doctor relieve me of my condition.


While not hysterical, it’s a fun movie, made even more joyful by some of the one-liners including Rupert Everett’s character who succinctly states: “All a woman wants is a good laugh and a hard p***k”. You can’t argue with that logic. Meanwhile, the good-looking Hugh Dancy’s character is told the “procedure” is “like rubbing your tummy and your head at the same time”. I knew I was doing something wrong. Certainly, the elderly gentleman sitting near me during this flick was also giving this some consideration, as I could not be certain from his heavy breathing whether he was over stimulated or had simply fallen asleep.

Make sure you stay while the credits roll for a true history lesson on the evolution of the vibrator. It’s enough to make your eyes water. Suffice to say, should I ever drop dead suddenly, you might want to clear out the top drawer in my bedroom, lest my parents try to figure out what that thing that looks like a rabbit and glows in the dark is doing in my underwear draw.


At the risk of sounding like I’ve acquired an addiction to porn (I did wake up the other morning unable to hear, which I later realised was more to do with my big night out rather than indulging in too much porn) it is probably worth giving my two cents worth on Fifty Shades of Grey now that I’ve finally finished the third book. While a rollicking romp on one hand, (and some less kinder souls say poor writing on the other), what interests me most is not the main character Christian Grey, but his girlfriend, Anastasia Steele. While I can understand how Grey’s neglect as a child, and sexual education/abuse by an older woman while he was in his teens could lead to his need for carnal control, I fail to see how Steele could be such a submissive soul. It’s not even about the sex, though at times even she admits she’s not happy about certain acts. It’s more the fact she no longer sees her friends, changes her surname to Grey despite not wanting to, and is promoted beyond her ability and experience at work thanks to her wealthy partner. If this is the post-feminist woman with an education, then we have cause for concern.

On one or two occasions in the past, male friends have quizzed me on what, exactly, I’m looking for in a man. Apart from a pulse and the fact he can spell as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, to quote the feisty Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in Hysteria: “I don’t want a husband, I want an equal.”

 In the meantime, I’m off to buy new batteries.


Life is a Cabaret

THE invitation stipulated dress code should be “fabulous” and given I think I should be awarded a Purple Heart for stepping out of my jarmies and into a cold winter’s night, I seriously underestimated what fabulous meant. Luckily, just as I was about to leave the house in what would have been another of my many fashion faux pas, I decided to call my best friend, who was involved in the function. “No, no, no!” he laughed, when I told him what I was wearing. “Wear one of those dresses you have.” And with that, he hung up. Now, any woman can tell you that being told to wear “one of those dresses” is not altogether helpful, so running late, I clutched at my old faithful Little Black Dress and dashed out the door.

Last night was the launch of Synapse’s 2012 campaign to highlight awareness of Acquired Brain Injury. Synapse works to rehabilitate those affected by Acquired Brain Injury and to educate the public about how serious, and common, this issue is. Among a population of 22.6 million, 1.6 million Australians have an Acquired Brain Injury. And last night, guests at a Brisbane function were invited to Synapse’s annual “Bang on a Beanie” or in this case “Bang on a Boa” launch.


There was Cabaret, champagne and canapés. And necklaces, naughtiness and nipples. I have it on good advice that one or two people may have been offended by the nipples. Not me! Given that I have been known to get mine out on one or two festive occasions, I was in complete awe of the Burlesque dancers who have found a way to entertain a group of people with their nipples AND get paid for it. I even made a mental note to sign up for a class or two. What those women could do with tassels was truly terrific and to say I’ll be practicing that sometime this weekend in the privacy of my bedroom is somewhat of an understatement.

It was a night for the bold and beautiful. Like Julian Saavedra. Julian, 20, from Colombia, was ran over by a taxi two years ago and landed on his head. He spent 20 days in a coma and several months learning to walk and talk again. After leaving hospital, he suffered from depression, which still plagues him some days. But he’s a survivor. “I was at home, bored. I got a book by Synapse on surviving Acquired Brain Injury. I started to translate that into Spanish. Then I translated magazines and campaign brochures.”  These days Julian works part-time with Synapse and studies French and Russian.

Then there’s Donna Sanderson, 39, a former hard-core heroin user who “scored” one night, hit her head on her bed, vomited and passed out. The vomit which blocked her airways sent her into a coma, interrupted the brain’s message to her legs, and now she’s in a wheel chair. But this Synapse board member lives independently: “Having an Acquired Brain Injury is not the end of the world.” She also sports two tattoos, the first reads: “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me” and the second are symbols for strength and courage. She aims to add wisdom to her arm sometime soon.

Lisa Cox, 32, was a healthy 24 year old when she suffered a brain hemorrhage out of the blue which left her 25% blind. She also lost 9 fingers, her left leg and her right toes and is also in a wheelchair. Lisa, who loves to write, is a motivational speaker at schools and a national ambassador for Synapse, has this message: “Brain injury can happen to anyone at any time.”

The function ended and I walked out into the crisp night air, delighted and inspired, and no longer worried about my dress or the fact it was cold. Before heading home, I decided to dance at my favourite 80s club, as a bit of a celebration for the fact I am happy and healthy. The club was teeming with gorgeous young men, all flirty, fabulous and full of life. In the course of the evening, I may have accidently touched one or two. I danced till my feet were sore and went home in the wee hours of this morning. As is often the case with me after a good night out, I’ve awoken with an inexplicable bruise on one foot, someone else’s red necklace, and without my winter coat. But I’ve still got my health. And yes, those nipples.

To find out more about Acquired Brain Injury or to donate to this incredible cause, go to or

Man, oh Man


TIRED and a tad emotional from visiting Cambodia’s torture centre and killing fields, I arrived back in Brisbane this week to find a swag of men waiting for me…well on my dating site at least.

First there was Marek, a 38-year-old Slovakian whose photo has him hugging a big dog. He ticked the first box – an unusual name (and he appeared to like big dogs). And possibly the second – that he came from an unusual country. His English was a bit broken (he said he wanted to meet the “women” of his life) but I could forgive him that, given it does appear to be his second language, and let’s face it, my Slovakian isn’t all that crash hot either. So I replied to Marek in the positive. I haven’t heard back from Marek since and am a little concerned he does actually think I AM Secret Agent Natascha from Minsk, as my profile jokes, and not plain old Miss Chris from Brisbane. Upon reflection, Marek did also mention in his profile that he wanted to “stay in Australia”, so he may also be struggling with the fact that Natascha from Minsk may not have a permanent visa either.

Next victim was a good looking man who called himself Slow and Steady. Slow and Steady, 37, seemed to be the Captain to my Tenille. He seemed sensible, measured and did I mention, good looking? He may have been a tad too sensible, as he said the only risks he takes are when he tries a new beer. I had hoped he was joking, so again, I replied in the positive. Now, if Slow and Steady was any more slower in his reply, I’d be checking for a pulse. Put it this way, it’s been almost a week and several countries later in my world, and still no sign of this slow poke. Maybe he’s still trying to decide on which risky beer he’s trying next?

While waiting for Slow and Steady to respond, I took some initiative and contacted Leo, 37, who describes himself as a “very energetic father of one who likes chick flicks”. Could he be the perfect man? The one, I wondered? Unfortunately, Leo didn’t think I was as smashing, and replied in the negative. I’m trying to tell myself it’s because he lives on the Gold Coast, and not because he doesn’t think I’m utterly lovely.

I also contacted Single Fit Guy, 41, who said he doesn’t “have a beer gut”. Although, in retrospect, he’s probably too sporty spice for me, so I’m not altogether crushed that he hasn’t responded.

And then there was today. A man who calls himself the Merchant of Venice (really?) contacted me. Given he lives on the SunshineCoast, I reckon he’s stretching the truth a bit there. Apart from calling himself an “optamist” his profile reads like this: “I ain’t looking to block you up, shock you up, analise you, catagorise you, finalise you, all I really want do is, baby be friends with you.” He also states he can “sometimes be a bone head who can sleep with the light off”. Merchant of Venice is 49, so one would hope he can sleep with the light off. But I can’t date a bad speller. Even if he is an “optamist”.

So, it’s back to the drawing board I go. As they say in the classics, there’s plenty more fish in the sea. Or should that be Merchants in Venice?


Wham Bam Thank You Nam

IT’S 4am and already 28 degrees when I check into the dodgiest airport hotel I have ever encountered. I’m in Kuala Lumpur enroute to Saigon and my hotel is a cross between an Australian outback motor inn and a detention centre. In a bid to make the place sound more exciting, they’ve named the cell blocks “terminals”. “You’re in Terminal 4,” the receptionist tells me upon check-in. I have about 13 hours here to kill and tell myself things will look brighter when the sun rises.

Later that morning I stumble across Susan from Sabah, and her massage parlour. Susan speaks in a gravelly voice, sports a cackly laugh, and wears a long red silk outfit that looks like pajamas. Her masseuse guides me into the room and asks me whether I’d like a sauna. I’m so tired from my overnight flight from the Gold Coast I am unsure whether it is a question or an invite. At this point I should also mention I have been reading Fifty Shades of Grey. I decline and lay on the table. My masseuse smooths out a few knots in my back and then rolls me over, picks both my legs, and holds them together like one would to tie chicken drumsticks before baking. I am buck naked and my legs and buttocks are being held high in the air. Me and my modesty are about to profusely protest when I realise it’s Ramadan. The poor lady hasn’t eaten all day and IS probably dreaming about a chicken drumstick. No funny business here. I make a mental note to stop reading Fifty Shades of Grey.

The next night I arrive in Saigon and head out for a Vietnamese omelette stuffed full of prawns, pork and spices. I take my first bite when an old lady who looks at least 100 walks into the restaurant carrying a pile of books as high as her head. She points to Fifty Shades of Grey. “You want to read?” she asks, a twinkle in her eye. “I’m already reading it,” I confess as she punches her first in the air. “Boom, Boom!” she laughs and disappears into the night.

 I head on to the beach resort town of Nha Trang. I’ve asked for a Vietnamese massage, unsure of what it exactly entails. My masseuse slathers me in oil and starts to rub my naked body.  Then, without warning she slaps me, hard on the buttocks. I think it must be a mistake as she resumes her gentle rhythmic rubbing. Whack! She slaps me again. This continues for the next hour. Is every woman in south-east Asia reading THAT book, I wonder as I lay on the torture table. Have I entered the red room of pain? I finish my bondage session and head for a late-night skinny dip in my private plunge pool overlooking the South China Sea. The lights of the fishing boats out of the horizon wink back at me.

The next day, out on a boat tour where the sea lice bite as much as Christian Grey himself forcing me out of the water with welts on my thighs, I ask Trong, my tour guide, about how to find a man in Vietnam.

 “You put on some perfume, and some nice makeup on your face, then we march into the bar and look for a hot, young, horny boy. And then you have a happy ending,” he says, matter-of-factly.

 “If they are tall and skinny, then they have big dong.”

 I’m unsure whether by dong, Trong means the local Vietnamese currency or something else but there are no happy endings in Nha Trang and I head on to the mountainside of Dalat which is believed to be the City of Love.

 Here, on two separate occasions, I’m stalked by guys on motorbikes. “I have been following you all day,” they say without any irony. I wave them off and wander into a local restaurant for some Pho. Twenty sets of chopsticks stop chattering and 20 pairs of eyes fix firmly on me as I slurp on a bowl of chicken soup. For the princely sum of $4.50 I am their dinner and their show.

Back in Saigon, a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl befriends me in a museum. Her name is Thanh. She runs away and returns with a small doll as a gift. My mind frantically scans my handbag for a return present. All I can think of is a half eaten packet of chewing gum and a box of tampons. Where, oh, where are those skanky little clip-on koalas when you need them?

I apologise to Thanh that I don’t have a gift for her, and thank her profusely for hers.

“My aunt thinks you are beautiful,” she says before skipping off.

I stand there and smile to myself. Just my luck to pick up an ageing Vietnamese woman who may or may not have read Fifty Shades of Grey.