Thursday, October 7, 2010

Confessions of a fiery frilled Bridezilla

As most of you know by now, the Australian Golden Boy (who I shall refer to as P, not because he is made of phosphorous, but because he likes a little more privacy online than Little Miss Let’s Share Everything With The Group here) proposed a few weeks back.

I said yes and we have been exploring the entertaining world of getting married together. Mainly this seems to involve people focusing all their attention on why I don’t have a ring yet.  We are getting something made up with stones from P’s grandparents. His grandparents were apparently lapidarists – which does not mean butterfly collecting and certainly not be pronounced labia-derists, however amusing the concept is – and they fossicked and polished some lovely sapphires as a gift to him for his 21st which we will be using.

So, to answer the next question which is always “have you set a date”, we have no solid plans. There have been discussions on rings, engagement parties, surnames and more. Quite frankly I am beginning to think at this stage that the entire purpose of organising the question traditions quicksand that is a wedding is to test whether you and your partner can navigate the morass of decisions together or get bogged down and break up.

It hasn’t happened so far.

Neither has persuading my father that P would like a pony as the traditional dowry animal. Dammit.

There are a few givens. We are both the happy possessors of very reasonable families, thankfully, so there will not be some enormous white monstrosity of a wedding where we have to invite 300 people; 200 of which are relations we have never seen or met, 50 of which are senile, incontinent or both, and make our 15 friends sit at the opposite end of the hall to us (you may laugh, but I’ve seen this happen).

It’s probably going to be a very small do and if I have anything to do with it there will be no white whatsoever. My mother, on guessing that I wasn’t after a white dress, suggested cream which as far as I am concerned is the bastard offspring of white and the foulness that is beige and can go get fecked. I quite like white, but it hates me. Being a ruddy and freckle-skinned lady, wearing blocks of either white or cream makes me look like Freckle McSpeckle the Angry Tomato and I can do without people comparing me to rotting fruit in the pictures for years after, thank you very much.

The wedding ceremony itself is still completely up in the air (P is unaccountably resisting my suggestion that we elope and get married in a cave, removing the need for all organising of fripperies) but it looks likely that there will be an engagement party in Sydney in March-ish and a trip to Ireland, with a possible eye to a party, around Christmas in December 2011-ish.
Frilled-neck lizard, from Wikipedia

All these things, like the proposal itself, can be taken back if I insist too much on ponies and a red dress with flamethrowers in the underskirt.  I also want a huge neck frill like the Dilophosaurus in Jurassic Park that can flare out massively, so if people alarm me on the day I can hiss at them and then SPOUT FLAMES.  This would be better than cream, right? You could use my dress to toast marshmallows and scare off birds. It would be AWESOME.

But right now, we are both very happy, not on fire and looking forward to sharing some fun with you all.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Evolution of the EA - published Executive PA magazine June 2010

This is a partial clipping only, for a copy of the full piece please mail sadhbh at gmail dot com.

In 1500 the PA role was for men only. In the 1950s it was dominated by women and in the 1990s people thought it would soon be obsolete. But today’s PA is a valued resource and PR powerhouse, more likely to be working on a document management system than carbon-copying memos says Sadhbh Warren.

The PA role has changed in recent times - today’s office support professionals are barely recognisable from the original secretary. While the profession today is highly regarded and dominated by women, historically it’s always been about a trusted right-hand man. The term secretary was first used during the Renaissance and comes from the Latin secretum, ‘a secret’ and referred to the men – and only men - who dealt with confidential correspondence and acted as advisors to the mighty.

Women were not initially seen as candidates for this influential position. When Sir Isaac Pitman founded the first secretarial school in 1870, it was solely for male students. But as typewriters became more common in the 1880s women began to enter the field, and by the end of World War 2 - when unprecedented numbers of women entered the workplace - the role of secretary had become primarily associated with women.

The role was being re-defined and it wasn’t always appreciated. When Joan Harris, typing pool queen bee from the TV show Mad Men (set in the 1960s) summates her view, there‘s no mention of the professional; "He may act like he wants a secretary, but most of the time they're looking for something between a mother and a waitress." ...

- clip ends, to read more please email me at sadhbh at gmail dot com -

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Big Trip Part 5 - Insane but beautiful in Belize

I have been in Belize for 6 hours and, as yet, no one has answered the most pressing question I have about the place.

To whit, why is there a fucking tarantula in the box next to the coffee machine?

Most people would assume that a box next to the coffee machine would contain beverage related items.  They’d imagine the mesh lid would be to keep flies off the things within. Perhaps some sugar and tea bags. Maybe, if we get really lucky, a few packets of biscuits. These would be the things that normally I would expect to find in a box on a table next to the coffee machine.

But no. There is a fecking tarantula. Approximately 5 inches of sulking black arachnid, hunched in readiness next to the spot where the box flips open. Perhaps he wants out. Perhaps he wants a coffee. Perhaps Belizeans sprinkle spiders on the foam of cappuccinos, like squirmy furious chocolate flakes. Who knows?

Belize is insane.

First off, Belize appears to be in the wrong place. With a small population who speak mainly English or Creole, its political and social stability, and its very Caribbean feel, Belize is an anomaly in the Spanish-speaking  politically-treacherous  Central America.

It makes up for this apparent stability by being completely barking. We discover this at border control where we, being the diligent and boring Anglos that we are, are overtaken in the immigration queue by two cowboys, a Caribbean woman who shouts “where else do I look like I am from” when asked to produce her passport, two young men intent chat up the immigration lady in her booth and who stare over her shoulder with interest at the passports of everyone coming through, and a Beauty Queen, complete with tiara, sash and retinue of eight giggling staff.

Once in the country, it gets a little more chaotic. Caving in San Ignacio we discover that when Belizeans say “abseiling” they mean “skidding down a sheer mud slope with no harness, while holding a sodden rope and peeing yourself in terror” and when they say “guided” they mean “eight hours of us screaming “be careful not to die”’ and when they say “fun” they think this means making the activities as dangerous as possible.

Three hours under the mountain they show us a burial cave, complete with a human skull. They say this is where the Mayans came to offer sacrifices to their Gods, but I suspect it may be someone from their last tour who failed to grip the rope right.

Away from the mountains and out on the island of Caye Caulker it is stunning, but not that much saner.  Lobster is so abundant here they put it on everything, with a lobster omelette costing the same as ham and cheese. Bars serve beers you can take straight into the crystal clear water, and watch as the locals persuade swooping frigates to take chips from between their lips. Stunning dreadlocked men flash their dazzling smiles at you, even more so if you are a white woman with no partner about.

(Incidentally, if you are looking for the white woman’s version of Thailand, where you can be smothered with attention by a hot-bodied Adonis half your age, try Belize, the Caribbean or Kusadasi in Turkey. The locals are stunning and not after payment, just a shag and maybe a nice meal out. As an added bonus you don‘t need to watch out for boy-ladies. Jus‘ sayin‘.)

Boats offer to take you snorkelling off the reef, the second biggest in the world, where you can see manatees and green turtles.  Our boat, which was billed as snorkelling and beer, decides that it would be fun to hurl large quantities of food over the side to attract nurse sharks BEFORE we jump in. I can hear the voices of my ancestors bitching. “Millions of years we spent AVOIDING these things - we left the ocean to get away from them - and now you go straight back IN. Fine. Go extinct then.” Twenty minutes later, our snorkelling guide hauls a huge and gurning eel from its hole in a rock and waves it at us. Do we want to touch it? I look at the baleful eyeballs and strong jaws and decide I am not yet that crazy, thanks.

That night, mercifully unbitten, we eat barbecued lobster on the beach. Belize, for all that it is insane, is beautiful. The enthusiasm and laid-back friendliness of the people is irresistible, even as they try to persuade you to throw caution to the wind and do something really bloody stupid. The landscape varies from lush mountain jungles to Caribbean blues seas and reefs, with no boring bits in the middle. It brings out the adventurer in the quietest of individuals, and rewards a leap of faith with amazing experiences, if you are brave enough to try them.

Belize, like many of my friend’s ex-girlfriends, is beautiful but insane. And I can see why people like it that way. I’m just not sure about the tarantula coffee.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Big Trip stop 4 - Guatemalan chicken bus charm

A friend of mine once married the girl he hadn’t wanted, and that’s kinda how I feel about Guatemala.

He was in the pub and very attracted to a bubbly blonde who was capturing the party‘s attention with her jokes, so he had a good try at chatting her up. She wasn’t keen. But he did end up talking to her friend, a brunette, and he realised she was funny and pretty and sweet and intelligent. And he asked her out and in the fullness of time they ended up getting married. And - apart from a few awkward “how did you meet” questions the wedding - it all worked out just fine.

When I was anticipating my 30 day overland epic trip through Central America, I wasn’t really thinking about Guatemala. Sultry Caribbean Belize, with its huge reef and soft creole, was occupying most of my attention, with bouncy, beery Mexico running close second. But it turned out to be Guatemala that gave me a lot of my best memories of the trip, although not where I had expected to find them.

Antigua is an artificial Disneyland of a town. Its name is not the town‘s original moniker and translates as “the old Guatemala“. It is thoroughly preserved by UNESCO decree and the influx of tourists who like the stalled-around-1700-with the-earthquake effect (because the past is cute provided you aren't the poor bastard who has to put up with living in it) but it is very charming. Cafes with courtyards (and oh, how Guatemala is deservedly known for coffee and chocolate) and sprawling ruins and ornate and morbid churches. It is a bit twee, but if you really feel the urge to sample something authentically modern, you can head just down the road to Guatemala City where you be shot by the drug crazed criminal of their choice. It’s up to you.

I would instead recommend heading to green-mountain ringed Lake Atilan where the roads are lined with stalls selling crafts and water taxis skip you across the lake in the sun. You can hang out with hippies in San Pedro or see Maximon, the “evil saint” of Santiago, who is worshipped by the offering of vices - alcohol and cigarettes being the popular ones. He lives in a different house each year and devotees visit Maximón in his chosen residence, where his shrine is usually attended by two people who drink to the Saint and - very drunkenly - explain to visitors where to put their offerings. The paper mache figure of Maximon is festooned with ties, maybe a 100, and has a lit cigarette or cigar in its mouth, and a hole in its mouth to allow it to drink the spirits.

Not feeling sacrilegious? You can climb the Maya ruins at Tikal where whatever Gods were there have long since abandoned the temples to the jungle. The views from the top are amazing, although not the ideal place to get food poisoning. Take in the town’s ornate churches, and their decidedly macabre statues. (Zombie Jesus is big here.) Or swim in the sulphurous and warm hot springs of Rio Dulce. Or ride through the rubber plantations in the jungle and take in the amazing views that Guatemala seems to hide around every corner.

If you are wondering how to get around, you’ll be on the chicken bus. So called for the Guatemalan habit of occasionally transporting livestock on them, they are adapted school buses, painted brightly and festooned with as much religious paraphernalia can be fitted. The reason for the religion is probably the driving. Buses are stuffed to the limit with passengers (and, trust me, the Guatemalans always think there is space for a few more, even when there is four of you squeezed into a two-seat and the woman standing is balancing her baby on her back and her three year old on your head) and then hard-driven to their destinations at top speed along rough roads. At stops another 40 people climb on, all over-laden with various forms of food and drink, and clamber over you screaming at you to buy their stuff.

Guatemala does not have a “thing”. It has Mayan ruins, but so does everywhere in the region. It has lakes and mountains and jungle, but so does everywhere in Central America. Belize does beaches better, and even it’s wonderful coffee and chocolate is apparently surpassed from other country’s. It doesn’t have one “thing“. And perhaps that is it’s charm. Freed from being known for one thing, it does them all well with the trademark Guatemalan smile and sense of humour. It might not be the pretty girl from the party that first catches your eye instantly. But give it a chance and take the time to sample its charms and, I can assure you, it won't be long before you fall for Guatemala.

* * * * *

This alarmingly late blog is brought to you courtesy of the Mexican Death Flu. It’s annoying. Everyone else is drinking margueritas and salsa dancing and generally enjoying the Mexican hell out of themselves, I am getting really familiar with the bathroom furniture. Everyone wants to see photos of the Mayan pyramids, no one wants to see Mexican bathrooms.

If you want to see them, I have plenty of info. Unfortunately I don’t have a shot of the one on the border between Oaxaca and Peublo, where there is an armed guard on the roof of the toilets. Clearly they take washing your hands very seriously here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trip part 3 - the USA - Peacock on a hot tin roof

Judging the States on brief visits to New York and Miami is like judging an extended family by having one night stands with two of the prettiest members. You have got a feel for it (so to speak) but you’re still missing out on all the normal day-to-day issues.

And it doesn’t help that New York and Miami are a typical of American culture in many ways. New York because it is so very diverse, a city that has inspired enough purple prose and invective over the years. A city that is all things to all men - a business metropolis, a city of slums, 5th Avenue and Harlem, the New Yorker and Sex in the City, Friends and Sopranos.

If you want to recreate the New York in the summer experience, take twenty strippers, thirty assorted religious ministers, forty crazy people, a goat for aroma, fifty feral pigeons and one coked-up DJ. Put them all in an tiny art gallery. Turn the music to loud and make the booze and drugs free. Crank up the heat and you have it; frenetic, diverse, bizarre and oddly intimate - ladies and gentlemen, this is New York.

We visit for July 4th, when the city is driven crazy by summer humidity and lit by fireworks and the streets are full of people. We have about as much fun as you can have in 24 hours - viewing the best of European history rebuilt in Cloisters, getting lost in art at the Met, relaxing in Central Park, fireworks and beers and the subway and buckets of iced coffees and food portions the size of my head - and leave exhausted, broke and over-stimulated the next day. Ladies and gentlemen, this is New York.

The next stop is Miami. Pretty much everything you need to know about Miami Beach can be summed up in one sentence. Instead of pigeons, they have peacocks and the mannequins have breast implants.

No really. Implants. Miami beach is lined by glorious art deco Mi-Mo buildings (that’s Miami Modern) filled with designer goods and massively mammaried mannequins. Flashy is something to be aspired to. The men are pinheads on pecs and glutes, the women lean with huge boobs and every tendon visible in their arms. There's less fat on them than on stick insect. I think it’s meant to be attractive, but they all look like rotisserie chickens to me, all skinny limbs, tight tendons and unnaturally plump breasts coated in a tanned and oiled skin. Looking good in Miami Beach is clearly expensive if you are not poultry.

Miami as a city is a little more diverse but retains that firey and flashy feel. Houses of the rich and famous back on to the water at Star Island (Vanilla Ice owns a mansion next to the guy who helped invent Viagra, Carmen Electra lives next to Ricki Martin and Jackie Chan’s back deck is covered in jetskis). As the first and final point of call for many Cubans it means that Spanish feels more like the official language than English, and Little Havana contains the world’s only Cuban Macdonalds, which is far more expensive than the surrounding - and much nicer - local Cuban-style places.

In the city, clubs blare hot Latino beats and R’n’B from midnight, with costly cocktails and chilled champagne being the drinks on the dancefloor. Want to sit in the VIP area? That will cost you. Mangos grow wild and peacocks crow from the roofs of houses in Coconut Grove. Pigeons are, possibly, just not flash enough for the rotisserie chicken people. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Miami, if you can afford it.

We’re can’t. So we are off to Guatemala and who knows what we will find on the roof at night?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Big Trip - next stop Ireland

After luxe-ing it up in Bangkok, my next stop is Ireland, which is lacking in outdoor Jacuzzis and infinity pools but utterly teeming with booze (which is normal) and sunshine (which certainly isn’t). The beach wedding that I have flown over is surprised by unseasonably pleasant summer weather. All the guests have brought umbrellas. None of us have brought sunscreen. P, my travelling companion and an Australian of the “Slip, Slop, Slap” school*, stares in horror at the guests, all turning steadily pinker and visibly dehydrating, who are making no attempts to cover up.

He pokes me and whispers. “The Irish don’t know how to deal with sunlight!”

True, but we know how to enjoy it, and everyone is maximising their chance of getting a bit of vitamin D to last us through the winter. There is a joke in Ireland about the odds of a sunny day coming up. “Did you have a nice summer in Ireland this year?” “We did, it was on a Wednesday”.

In 2010, the summer was on my friends’ wedding day. We stand there, on a beach so white and blue and sunny it could be in the Caribbean, blinking in the unfamiliar sunshine. Baking gently as the bride and groom swear their vows. I bury my toes in the warm sand as they swap rings and the waves lap behind them. Afterwards, all the guests go for a paddle. It’s simply a perfect day.

And it sets the tone for the Irish trip in general. It’s hard to get perspective on the country that I grew up in. Things that seem amazing to others (summer sunsets at 11pm, two thousand year old hill forts randomly sprinkled in farmer’s fields, pubs where the craic is always mighty) are old hat to me, but returning after five years living abroad it’s easier to see the great aspects of the Ireland and the Irish.

The landscape, swinging from verdant green to bare limestone hills and the wild blue of the Atlantic. The people, the chats, the wry sense of humour and the inventive and imaginative turns of phrase used. The castles, the cathedrals, the beer gardens and snugs of real Irish pubs.

The endless, endless quantities of booze. Oh wow, the booze. I had forgotten that Guinness is not meant to be slightly warm and greasy with a faint acidic taste, but a smooth and creamy cool on the palate draught.

It’s only when I find myself finding the distinctive sing-song accent of Cork cute, when I know logically that it sounds like the high pitched whining of a rusted hinge in a particularly temperamental gale, that I realise that it’s probably time to move on. Next stop, where luxury and Guinness will both be completely off the cards, New York.

That’s Slip on a teeshirt, Slop on a hat and Slap on the sunscreen. Basically it advocates total coverage on sunny days when you go outdoors and P, as a sensible Australian, follows it far more religiously that I do. He has been known to chase me around the house desperately trying to place a hat on me but has so far resisted the urge to place me in a hermetically sealed lightproof bunker on sunny days.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Big Trip, Country 1 - A Party in Thailand’s Pants

There is a saying. “There is a party in my pants and everyone is invited.”

If someone were to actually try to fit a few million party people into their pair of pants, that hot, humid and thoroughly frenetic gusset would be Bangkok. The city assaults the senses with it‘s sheer vibrancy, teeming and steaming in humidity so intense that to step out of the air conditioning for the briefest moment is to look like a marathon runner in their last mile. The city’s buildings and temples sparkle in the sun by day and are festooned with neon and fairy lights by night. The river throngs with boats, the dragon boat dangling flowers from their pointed and multi-coloured prows as they skim over the sullen and silt-filled water. Bangkok never sleeps. It might miss something.

On our first day and fighting lack of sleep, we are dazzled by the noise, the smells. Street vendors hawk dried fish heads and fruit next to the stench of an open sewer; tuk-tuk drivers chase tourists offering a ride; taxi drivers call out to us and wave us over. They want take us on a trip see temples and palaces. All free if we just stop to look at some shops, some hand-made suit stores, some gems, some jewellery. It’s stupidly cheap - 10 baht for a trip to the Reclining Buddha, but they raise the offer price to 200 baht home from the markets when they find we are staying in the Bangkok Hilton. At what should be 50, it’s a blatant rip-off.

As we walk off to find a cheaper option, a Thai man appears from nowhere and offers to take us out to show us a good time. Well, show P, my partner in travel and occasionally crime, a good time. There’s a party, and no pants are involved. “Girls. I show you pretty girls. Ping pong show?” he wheedles, unwilling to accept the fact that P is currently so tired he would probably only be interested if the girls offered him a pillow and perhaps a cup of cocoa.

I am tempted. A story where my partner was woken from his dreams by a damp ping pong ball to the head is tempting, but P just wants some sleep. If only we can find someone who’s not trying to rip us off to take us home.

You can’t blame them for trying. Our hotel is not a cheap option and they briefly think they have big spenders on their hands when we tell them where we want to go. But we‘re just splashing out on our accommodation. We’re staying in the Bangkok Hilton - the real one, not the prison. It couldn’t be less gaol-like. The pillows are the size of surf boards, the bathroom is bigger than several of the apartments I have rented while back-packing. The enormous breakfast buffet includes the usual suspects - fried pig for the unhealthy, fruit and nuts for the health conscious (both for me) - but also has a chef whose job is to cook waffles and serve them with melted chocolate or honey or fresh berries. I could get used to this. Why do we not have a waffle chef at home?

On the fourth floor, the infinity pool stretches into the sky. Sitting out in an outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the river below with smiling Thai bringing me fluffy towels and watermelon on a stick, I keep feeling that I have stolen someone else’s holiday. I’m a backpacker. I don’t normally travel like this. But a room at the four and a half star Millennium Hilton costs around130AUD a night and we have a long arduous trip planed, most of which will be low-budget. May as well enjoy the party while it lasts.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Final Countdown

With just a few days to go until I take off around the world, there are lots of important decisions to be made. Namely, what to do about shoes.
There are numerous guides to packing for long trips out there, all of which tend to advise taking somewhere in the region of one pair of underpants, 2 rain-coats, 3 types of anti-diarrhoea medication and 13 types of antiseptic lotion. Clearly, these people are advising for a trip that I do not want to go on.
They all advise 3 pairs of shoes to cover all eventualities; 1 pair of flip-flops (that's thongs to the Antipodeans out there), 1 pair of heels and 1 pair you can walk in.
Two comments. One, if you can not WALK in your heels, get another pair that actually fit or wear flats. No one wants to keep you company in A&E in a foreign city when you do a Bambi on ice after your eighth Mojito. Two, that is not even CLOSE to covering all the eventualities. Here is what you will actually need:
  1. The Indestructible Boots (Doc Martins are good, New Rocks better) - These bastions of sturdy, hardwearing shoeism serve several purposes. The first is keeping my feet wonderfully safe and dry, not matter what the conditions. The second is that they are heavy enough to be used as a weapon, and concuss any aggressors or over-zealous over-orange flight attendants. Get BACK, munchkin. 
  2. Some Strappy Wedges - These delightful chunky wedges, in addition to giving you happy feet, have long multicoloured ankle ties. These ties, obviously, have numerous useful functions; tying notes to carrier pigeons, should the plane crash on a desert island that has the bad grace to be devoid of a local population and/or phones; if there is a local population, you can barter them for food and water, on the grounds that they would go stunningly with a grass skirt. The application of the Indestructible Boots as a weapon (see above) at a later time, would allow you to steal these shoes back, creating an unending and inexhaustible readymade currency. 
  3. Trainers (Fake but Cute) – You will need to sneak up on the locals to hit them with your boots.
  4. Trainers (Real) – you may get caught while sneaking and need to run away.
  5. The Cute Ones with the Small Wooden Heel – These are particularly useful should you crash on an island that is populated by pygmies, who are known to be quite prickly about their height. In the event of a deficit of pygmies, they can be used to float out notes to see if carrier pigeons are unavailable, or burned as firewood, if circumstances are truly dire.
  6. The Flip-Flops with the Cute Sequins - The astute amongst you will have already grasped that these are ideal for working in areas where there is a danger of electrocution, and the sequins can be used to reflect light at passing planes, alerting them to the presence of a large group of people awaiting rescue before it becomes necessary to burn their wooden shoes. Obviously. 
  7. The Heels Of Doom - Six-inch spike stilettos, suitable for stabbing, gouging, digging, poking, permeating and just generally looking hot as all hell. Because you are going to want to look your best when rescue finally shows up.

Think of your shoes as a survival kit, and you can't go far wrong. Think of survival kits as a survival kit and you end up ill AND with bad shoes. Clearly, a no-brainer.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Meanwhile, on Boomerang - Bored of the Rings

Regular readers will notice this blog has been quiet of late. That's at least partly due to a blogging job I got in April with Boomerang Books. If you'd like to see, head on over to my real-life and non-fiction reading blog, Read Up On It.

Can't be bothered clicking? Here's one of my entries from there, Hating the Classics.

I've always enjoyed the refreshing honesty and downright rudeness some authors display when they dislike a book. From the bluntness of Stephen King saying Stephenie Meyer “can’t write worth a damn” to Dorothy Parker’s caustic book reviews (“[this] novel is not to be tossed lightly aside, but to be hurled with great force”) there is no shortage of pithy putdowns amongst the literary set.

But what if you are not in the literary set? It’s all very well to dislike a book when you are a writer yourself, but when you haven’t got ten bestsellers and a Miles Franklin to your name, it seems a little cheeky to declare a book a waste of text.

Especially if you take on the canon of the classics. It took me three re-readings of Lord of the Rings – three! – to finally acknowledge the truth. I don’t like it. In fact, I actively dislike it.

My reasons for disliking it are as long and self-indulgent as the opening scene of the novel itself, which takes approximately 100 pages for something actually happen, other than a rather dreary party full of furry-footed and insufferably twee hobbits. I try not to over-share and normally don’t start frothing too much. I usually spare people the full recital of my wishes to see the nauseatingly cheerful hobbits rounded up and dropped into the Mines of Moria, and the Elves strangled with their own straight-and-shiny-and-oh-so-lovely hair.

But I still get shocked faces when I come out with it. “Yes, Lord of the Rings is a classic, and an amazing piece of work. I just don’t like it.”

I like to compound this by opining that Salinger’s Holden Caulfield – the protagonist of Catcher in the Rye and all-round emo before it was fashionable – would benefit from either a stint in military school or blunt trauma with his own incoherent prose and that Joyce’s Ulysses was – in the words of both his and my people, the Irish – a load of old bollocks.
(If you are offended by my profanity in describing Joyce, do yourself a favour and don’t read Ulysses.)

How can you admit to hating the one of classics without feeling a bit, well, stupid? How can I happily stick my hand up and complain about an author that has his own festival, Bloomsday? That you enjoyed the Twitterature version far more than the real thing? (Written by two 19 year olds, and containing such delights as Romeo and Juliet: “Her nurse asketh if I want to marry Juliet. She is the sun but this is waaay too fast. Am I being punk’d? Where’s Ashton?”)

It’s tempting to conclude, in a universe where these books have stood the test of time and become classics, that I must lack any and all literary taste. That reading enjoyment is not subjective and that my personal opinions are actually wrong.

But sometimes by voicing the unspeakable, you discover how your opinion might be more common than you think. I’m not alone in disliking Tolkien. At his own literary group, The Inklings, Hugo Dyson complained loudly, and Christopher Tolkien records Dyson as “lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, “Oh God, no more Elves.”” A small subset of my English class used to escape after lectures to drink coffee and have a good rant about Mansfield Park. (I can’t even begin to tell you how much more I enjoy Murder at Mansfield Park than the original.)  

It’s a huge relief to stand up and say, “Yes, I know it’s a classic. But I don’t like it.” And even more so when you realise, as you almost definately will, that you are not the only dissenting voice in the world.

So, which are the classics that you would cheerfully toss in a volcano and flambé ala Frodo?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In MX today - Running from Madonna

When it comes to diet and fitness, it seems that people don’t think the oldies are the goodies.

It’s weird. If I announce I am following the latest celebrity diet, everyone is interested. After all, how what can go wrong when you follow the advice of people who believe in size zero and Scientology?

But when I mention I’ve taken up running people respond with horror. It won’t work, they tell me. Jogging is too hard. It’s bad for my joints, they wail.

I’m doing the Couch to 5k, a beginner-friendly plan designed to get you to running 5 kilometers without tears, injuries or requiring illegal steroid injections twice a week from someone called Big Boxing Bob.

I can see the results and I’m enjoying it. But people insist on worrying about my knees. Won’t someone please think of my knees?

From the stories I have heard, a small but significant proportion of the population has explosives in their patella. Much like the bus in Speed, they’re fine at a walk.  But if they ever try to go faster, disaster! Their kneecap detonates, shattering a nearby bus, Sandra Bullock’s career and any idea they might have had that Keanu Reeves can act.

Running is prehistoric; a sure fire way to exploding knees and injuries, people tell me. Have I considered the more suitable modern alternatives?

I’ve tried yoga. In the slow version I fell asleep, in the fast one I got my bits stuck in my other bits and needed to be unknotted.

Pilates is great but doesn’t burn off many calories. Rock-climbing is fun but I spend less time climbing lithely like a snow leopard and more time swinging from the harness like a cat being rescued from a tree.

I need to do something cheap and cheerful that burns off the calories. So, why can’t I just jog to get my aerobics the old fashioned way and run?

But no, people tell me I need to go more high-tech. Jogging? Outdoors? With just trainers? Where is the modernity, where is the equipment? Where is the studio with integrated FitBeat™ music blaring and a Madonna-skinny instructor shouting abuse?

People always recommend some sort of class. They’re usually called Bootcamp or DethSpin or GroinPump or something equally macho.

These classes consist of tasks like cycling insanely fast until you want to throw up or dancing insanely fast until you want to throw up (just like most Friday nights, then).

Or you can pirouette insanely around with weights such as kettlebells (which looks neither like a kettle or a bell, but does look like some the Spanish Inquisition would use) while a terrifyingly fit woman in her 50’s screams insults at you – again, until you want to throw up.

For bonus points, you can use a heavier set of weights and do more reps. For extra bonus points, you can attach the kettleball to your genitals and set yourself on fire. Or something.

Look, if I wanted to be verbally abused about my weight and fitness, I could just visit my mother. At least she doesn’t wear crotch-exposing clothing, (is it just me, or does Madonna’s bits in a leotard look like an uncooked chicken?) and she also does a nice dinner.

She’ll cook the dinner, I’ll eat the dinner and then – when she starts on my weight, waistline and how I could be such a pretty girl if I’d just look after myself – I’ll stick on my trainers and jog gently into the distance.

A healthy meal, a catch-up with family and some motivation to run, all for less than the price of a gym class.

Old fashioned? Perhaps. But it works.

Sadhbh Warren is an MX reader who would prefer Madonna if she put some pants on.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Published in Voyeur, the Virgin Blue inflight magazine.

Very happy with this piece. Not only was it a great trip but this is the first time I have had a professional magazine team put pictures and formatting to my words and oh wow, does it make a difference.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Published on The Punch - My thoughts on your travel pics.

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, take photos.

Wondering how to take great holiday snaps? Ben Groundwater has tips from Richard I'Anson, professional photographer and author of Lonely Planet's Guide to Travel Photography, on how to take the perfect pic.

Except he’s forgotten the best tip on taking travel photos. Don’t. Put the camera down and go do something.

As Ben says, many travellers fancy themselves as photographers and “like to take the odd snap to show off to their friends back home”.

But it’s not the “odd snap”. It’s endless monotonous sunsets, sunrises, and blurred pics of the view from the train window, plane window and the local toilets. So many photos I wonder if they did anything on the trip other than press the shutter button.

There’s the scenery bore, usually a single traveller who takes endless shots of landscape and them standing in front of it, safe in the knowledge that their precious pictures are unsoiled by social interaction.

“This, this is a shot of a waterfall. And this is the same waterfall from a different spot. This is the waterfall with me in front of it. I always take two shots in case I close my eyes. No, I take three. Look, there I am. And here’s that waterfall again. Will you just look at all that water?”

Or the amnesiac bores who need to agree on the inconsequential details of what each shot is before they can move on.

“Oh this, this is that temple – John, was this the temple with the statues? It was? – We went to this temple on the – John, was it the third or the fifth day? You had that food poisoning on the third day, you had a runny bottom. I told you not to eat the salad. – We went on the third day. Look, there’s a statue.”

And that’s not counting the technical bores who tells you all about the lens they used for each shot, the food bores who insists on photographing every meal and the ego bore who is gurning out at you from each of their photos. All four hundred of them.

Back in the days of camera that used film, the bores were usually limited by their budget. They didn’t take 20 shots of the same thing – it cost too much to develop. Travellers had a good look, took a pic and went off to have some fun.

But thanks to digital cameras, people feel unfettered in how often they click. I’ve been shown twenty photos of the same waterfall. I’ve sat through countless hours of the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon and Amsterdam’s red light district.

And it’s not just saving them for later, some people want you stop having fun and squint at that screen right now. One bore tried to show me pictures of the Whitsundays when we were still in the Whitsundays and trying to enjoy the scenery. I just said the screen was too hard to see.

But now Nikon have produced a camera with a projector, so bores can start show a slideshow on the spot. If I see someone coming towards me with that, I will be off and running before you can say “this, this is a picture of where we are right now”.

I’m not saying I won’t look at any photos, but I have a limit. Hand picked precious moments is one thing, the same shot from 16 angles is another. Much like your love life, I’m happy you enjoyed yourself, but I don’t to hear a complete play-by-play and flick through detailed pictures.

And, much like your love life, there comes a time to put the camera down and go have some fun yourself or people are going to think you’re a bit of a bore.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A fat chick's guide to the Couch to 5k, exploding prostates and a great arse.

When it comes to diet and fitness, it appears the old fashioned options make people nervous. While I can announce I’m following the latest celebrity diet and get polite interest in response (after all, how can you go wrong following the directions of genetically-freakish neurotic stick insects who have embraced size zero as a concept), every time I mention I have taken up running people tend to respond with shock and admonishments.

Never mind that I am following a conservative program, the Couch to 5k, so called because it aims to get you from being a non-exerciser (that’s the couch) to running 5 kilometres comfortably in nine weeks of training. Never mind that I am an unfit cow who could clearly benefit from getting up off her fat ass. Never mind that I can see the results in my fitness, shape and heart rate after a few months. Never mind that it appears to be working and I enjoy it.

It won’t work, they tell me. Jogging is too hard. It’s strenuous and bad for my joints, they wail, won’t someone please think of my joints? My poor knees!

Everyone wants to worry about my knees. From what I can gather, a small but significant proportion of the population appears to have explosives in their patella that – much in the manner of the bus in Speed – that should they start to jog will detonate once they go back to a walk, shattering their knee cap, a nearby bus and any idea they might have had that Keanu Reeves can act. Running is a sure fire way to exploding knees and injuries, they tell me, have I considered the more suitable low impact alternatives?

No, no, I haven’t, and for one simple reason. Those low impact alternatives don’t work for me. I can slide on the elliptical trainers until the cows come home quite happily, or do yoga until I pass out to sleepyland on the mat but the simple fact is they don’t fecking work for me. Exercise is not meant to be about ease. If your work-out doesn’t challenge you, you are doing it wrong. In my case, the task of hauling my (very oversized) frame at a fast jog is an excellent method of getting myself a bit fitter and my frame a bit smaller.

“But, but … your knees!”, they cry. A wonderful rejoinder to this is, “My grandad ran for 50 years, it was his prostate that got him.” Which usually shuts them up. No one likes to hear the word prostate, especially when they are unsure HOW the prostate would get someone. Cancer, perhaps, or sudden explosion? If the exploding knees don’t get you, that darned detonating prostate will.

I am, as a fat chick who can get fatter, willing to take my chances with an explosive prostate. That said, while the “too fat and unfit to try" argument holds no water for me, being a big girl does add a few considerations to the program. For a bit of background – and because I have no shame about this – while I can wriggle into a size 14, I tip the scales at 85kg. And at 5”5, that puts me well into the obese territory of BMI.

I’m a big build, huge shoulders, lots of muscle, small bum and strong legs. But there’s lots of fat there too. And a beer belly. Don’t forget that belly. I can witter all I want about big build, but I am also simply overweight and out of shape. Here is my guide to the Couch to 5k as a big chick, and what I have learned along the way.

It’s fine to repeat, repeat, repeat
The program tells you that it’s fine to repeat weeks, but in the initial flushes of enthusiasm, you imagine yourself cruising straight through it and on to 10k runs in Olympic time in under 4 months. This will not happen. Sooner or later you will have a bad week, whether it’s that you get ill, or work gets crazed or you’re just finding it too tough. There is nothing wrong with repeating a week, the object is build your muscles and stamina. It is fine to stagger along at your own pace. You’re building, not breaking, take your time. That said, if you get horribly stuck…

Check your shoes
I got stuck on Weeks 4 and 5 for two months, thanks to agonising calf and ankle (not knee, dammit) pains. Eventually I realised it was that I was running in the wrong type of shoes – unlike most of the population I walk on the outside of my foot (or supinate - the opposite of being flat footed) and it had never shown up before as I had never run for that long. When I got my new and improved shoes, my muscles then had to readapt. End result? I spent three months on two weeks of the program. Check your shoes if you are having issues and if you are buying shoes, find a decent sports store and bring in your last pair of shoes so they can see how they wore down and recommend a type. As a heavy girl, I need the tougher shoes – most of the regular trainers are designed for people under 70 kilos, and getting a recommendation is worth it. It won’t cost much more than an extra twenty to get the right shoes for you, and could save you three month’s injuries.

Join a gym – then leave it
While part of the charm of running is that it doesn’t need specialist equipment, starting out in a gym makes the early runs more understandable. You can measure your distance and speed exactly, not worry about road-crossings and tripping, and running on a treadmill is softer than running on the road. Graduating to the road is more fun for your run, but initially running on a treadmill makes getting the hang of things that bit easier. Also, there will probably be air-conditioning, which leads me to my next point…

Stay cool
If you are overweight, you’ve got an additional layer of insulation. Great in Winter, not so cool when you’re trying to exercise. While it can be tempting to wrap up all your wobbly bits, that makes it harder for your body to cool off. Jog next to the aircon unit or in a breeze and, once you start going for longer runs, try swapping that tent tepee and tracksuit pants combo for a singlet and long shorts. Watch out for humidity too, last week here was 80%+ most days and I was struggling with 4kms badly, this week it’s dropped below 60% and I just cruised through 4.5kms.

Judge yourself more fairly
This is not a “winning is taking part, and it’s okay to fail” speech. That’s bollocks. Having perpetually low expectations of yourself and then failing to meet them gets you no awards and won’t help get you fitter. You can do the Couch to 5k, if you take it at your own rate.

What I’m referring to is judging yourself on weight alone. I’m exactly the same weight now as I was 6 months ago, despite jogging three times a week. So, is it a failure? Not if I look at my measurements (three inches off the beer belly), my heart rate (down from 75bmp to about 55) and, most importantly, my fitness. I can now run for over ten times as long and significantly faster and I can feel that on a day to day basis. I've put on muscle, and look a little leaner. I feel a lot fitter.

And, on a less worthy note, my bum looks fabulous. Just saying. :D

Friday, February 5, 2010

Published on - Fat Tax - a quick fix to a big problem?

Think you’re a normal weight? So did I, until I got stuck in a lift at 2am. A big group of us piled in and it promptly broke. After the shock of screaming to a halt between floors, we were indignant. The lift said it could hold 12 people, and there were only 11 of us!

But a closer look at the lift safety sign revealed the truth. 12 people - at 780 kg total. That’s 65kgs a person, and none of us weighed that. Not that any of us thought we were fat, just normal. The average Australian weight is 71kg for women, and 85kg for men. What was this, a lift for gnomes? Sick gnomes on a diet? How could they expect real people to fit?

The simple answer is they don’t. On average, most Australians are too big. Too heavy for lifts, too large-breasted for one-size-fits-all tops, and too big for airline seats.

Although Australian airlines have said no, some of the Australian public is saying a big yes to increasing fares for obese passengers. According to poll on, 85% of respondents would support a “fat tax”, and the comments are full of frustration at encroaching beer guts and “stolen” arm rests.

That’s a lot of normal people being annoyed by the evil that is fat people on a plane.

Or is it? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 54% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. But 63% of men and 59% of women believe that they are an acceptable weight. How many people calling for “fat tax” should be looking at their weight and waistband instead?

And that estimate of 54% of the population being overweight is the cheerful picture. The actual amount may well higher, as people tend to over estimate height and under estimate weight. Just as most people rate themselves an “above average” driver, most people think they are lighter and in better shape than they are. These days, it’s average to be overweight.

Overweight is the new normal, and the airlines don’t design for that. The seats aren’t made accommodate the average person. They are designed to pack in people and they use a study from the 1950s to do so. The recommendation is that seats should be 18 inches wide, but Qantas and Virgin offer 17 inches on many of their aircraft.

We’ve got bigger, the seats have got smaller. No wonder we’re feeling a bit cramped and uncomfortable.

The most uncomfortable flight I ever spent was 4 hours wedged between two rugby players. Their vast shoulders forced me into a forward crouch and their huge legs took up most of my leg room. These were seven-foot-tall muscle men who routinely tape their ears to their head and then charge into each other. Should I have demanded that they pay a fat tax? A tall tax? A fit tax? A “being healthier than average” tax? What tax would work?

A fat tax won’t work and is an insultingly simple take on a complex issue that affects a lot of Australians. It is a discriminatory knee-jerk solution that picks on a group with a lot of bad press – the overweight. And many Australians don’t realise when people talk about "fatties", they’re talking about them, the average, the normal – the overweight.

Let he who is without wobbly bits cast the first stone. If you think you’re average, well, don’t ask for whom the fat tax tolls, because it could well toll for thee.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Butt naked and blue - but who really cares?

Up on The Punch today, my thoughts on the proposed x-ray airport scanners and people perving on my bald blue bits.

If you're swinging by the Punch, also check out David Penberthy's sex doll piece, I nearly died laughing at it.

Having survived the recession, swine-flu and my affair with Tiger Woods, it chills me to find out there’s a new threat - airport scanners.

Now, I’m used to scanners. Used to queuing for ages behind people who empty their pockets only when they get to the scanning belt. Used to my (completely non-metallic) shoes setting off the alarms. I’m used to getting through and then being stopped for an explosives scan because I just love being scanned that much.

But these new scanners, recent coverage suggests, are different. A perversion of the metal scanner I know and love.

These scanners emit x-rays that pass through my clothes and then flash up a monochromatic image of me, denuded of clothes and hair, for security officials to leer and peer at my bits.

But its not just lascivious guards I need to worry about, I’m told. They could cause huge delays I have to pay for, according to The Australian.

They could possibly be called child pornography, says Images could be hacked via wifi, reports the Sydney Morning Herald, or in just 2-3 hours a skilled person with the right technology could re-generate the images of me based on the gamma rays. Gamma rays! Imagine that!

But really, why would they bother?

All this frothing about hackers desperate to ogle my genitalia ignores one basic fact there are already genitals on the internet. And they look far better than mine. In full colour and on full display, its called pornography and, according to the hit musical Avenue Q, its what the internet is for.

Honestly, who wants to see my blurred blue bald bits when they could watch proper porn? Why would they browse static images of what looks like an overweight mole when they could be viewing the full-colour animated antics of buffed bronzed professionals? I doubt that my bits have that big an appeal, even if they are pleasantly rendered in a flattering turquoise trim.

If blue bits are really their thing, I’m sure there’s Smurf pornography available and that someone, somewhere has already made a naked homage to Avatar.

Does anyone anywhere get off on these blurred x-rays? And if people want access to intimate images, surely everyone knows the best way to see peoples rude bits is to Facebook-friend them and browse their photos.

And, while some articles complain the technology is invasive, several say it doesn’t go far enough. It can’t find items stored in body cavities, they complain, that needs a more intimate check. My fellow passengers could have cocaine-covered explosive machetes in every nook and crevice and Ill never know.

Or not. Look, could we please stop giving the security guards ideas about rubber gloves, and take this advance for what it is - an easier way to perform a security check reasonably quickly.

If it works, they have my full permission to ogle my outline. Hell, they can draw glasses and a moustache on my bits while I’m there if it gets me on the plane faster. I’ll spell encouraging messages on my bum in tinfoil to brighten their day - “Gr8 job” and “Lookin’ good”. I'll even pose for the camera.

Just don’t expect my bits to look good.