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gargSixteen year old Princess has travelled to France via London on a French exchange visit. She will be there until the end of January. Following are extractions from emails sent and received between us.

Me
So let me get this straight, you have left your brand new state of the art MacBook at the x-ray security checkpoint at Gatwick airport?

P
sorry about the laptop incident daddy. do you think it will turn up?

Me
Well despite all the bad things you read about in the world, I do believe most people fundamentally want and try to do the right thing, so yes I’m optimistic you might see it again. I have just rung Lost Property at the airport, but they’re now closed for the night now so I will try again tomorrow.

P
thank you daddy. I love you. xoxoxo

Me
Good news! Lost Property have your laptop. Bad news, it’s going to cost £100 just to courier it to your uncle’s house in London. It would seem I’d need a second mortgage to get it all the way to you in France, not to mention much harder logistics. So there it will stay I’m afraid until your return to England. So what have you been up to?

P
went shopping this morning then this afternoon attended a birthday party with 60 screaming 5 year old french girls. my ears are still ringing. i had no idea what they were rattling on about, but they all seemed to be enjoying themselves. you’ll be pleased to know however that i could understand and communicate with the mums though. two girls were sharing the party together.

today was the first time I’ve seen their house in the daylight. it was dark when I arrived [last sunday afternoon] and it is dark when we go to school and dark when we come home again. how do people cope with all this darkness?

etowSixteen year old Princess has travelled to France via London on a French exchange visit. She will be there until the end of January. Following are some extractions from emails sent and received.

Me
Lovely to hear you’ve arrived safely. You really are so lucky getting to swap your summer school holidays, 30°C+ days, for… err, winter and four weeks of French school. Look I know it may be a little hard to see how lucky you are at the moment, but trust me, you will do so one day.

P
sorry couldn’t skype last night as i lost my internet connection which keeps disappearing. ive tapped into some random wireless one now because billions appear due to the houses all being so cramped together in london.

Me
Well glad you are well. You haven’t missed much here, except the sun of course! Last night we headed off to Rodent boy’s end of year school spectacular The Perfect Gift. Basically a narrative where the lead girl tells her friends (and us) the exciting news that she is going to be a ‘big sister’. She asks these friends what present she could possibly get for the new baby. As they explore the predictable possibilities, these become the inevitable cues for each of the school years to all troop on stage dressed accordingly and sing a tenuously related song. The gift ideas included a ‘puppy’ to which Year 1 sang ‘How much is that doggy in the window’ all dressed as Dalmatians (sadly a couple of the fat kids looked more like cows). This was then followed by Year 2 performing ‘On the good ship lollipop’ in response to the strange suggestion that the baby would like lollies [sweets/candy]. Your brother’s Year 3 sang ‘Sing (sing a song)’ as perhaps a ‘musical gift’ might be more appropriate. Year 5 offered a whole plethora of ideas performing ‘My favourite things’ from the ‘Sound of Music’. But of course the ‘perfect gift’ for the baby was… Da daaaaa… LOVE! And what better song to convey this than… ‘Baby Love’ (oooow baby love…) by the Supremes! The grand finale featured the whole ensemble singing ‘What the world needs now (is love)’ and then finished with the upbeat gospel ‘Jesus! What a wonderful child’. It was at this point that the penny finally dropped with me exactly which baby (albeit metaphortically) we were talking about. On the way out, parents were all agreeing with each other how fantastic they thought it was… Hmmm, such low expectations. Soldier Boy, who sat at the back between two flirty, and slightly slutty looking girlfriends, (who’s evening seemed to brighten noticably for seeing him there), said to me as we were leaving ‘Well that was much better than I thought it was going to  be… NOT!’.

P
wow. wish i’d been there too.

clWhich do you think is harder? Up a ladder decorating your house with Christmas cheer in freezing Northern Hemisphere temperatures, or doing the same thing in the roasting summer heat of Sydney? Yes, we have that mad tradition here too and I’d like to suggest that Sydney is definitely the harder of the two. Despite sunblock protection, I am currently nursing skin that is thankful to at last be out of today’s unrelenting UV rays, all endured in the name of entertainment.

It’s now about 7.15pm and of course still as light as it was earlier this afternoon, so I can’t yet see the fruits of my labours. I should imagine you’re now thinking ‘So why on earth would you do such a thing in Summer?’. Good point. It doesn’t actually get dark enough here until around 8.15pm, so why indeed would anyone want to make all that effort for just a couple of hours exposure time?

This was totally my view until the mad barrister moved in a few doors up. Nice bloke, but I do struggle to see how anyone would let this inept Rumpole of the Bailey type character defend them in court. I wouldn’t want him anywhere near my case should I ever misdemeanor, but there you go.

santreeAnyhow, I digress your honour, he was the one who started it all. The first year it was just a few icicle lights and some flashing stars. But before we knew it, it had grown into the full-on Santa’s grotto complete with six nodding reindeer, a large nativity scene and the slightly weird and very conflicting, visually tacky, larger than life, blow-up Santa in red underpants sitting under a palm tree on his roof. Well in 33°C/91°F (as it was today) Santa wouldn’t be in the conventional full red suit would he? Palm trees though? Now they’re not native to Australia, or perhaps that’s getting a bit too anal. I never could watch cartoons.

So anyway, the year after he moved in and started all this, his next door neighbour and the guy three doors down also bought a few lights. The following year a few more joined in and before we knew it, I was the only ‘Scrooge’ in the street with his electricity bill still under control. I was sure I could hear the tut-tutting of people as they walked past, ‘Look at that miserable bastard all in darkness…’. Yeah right, and how many lights do you have on your house exactly? About as many as I do, I’ll wager.

Last year though, I succumbed to the pressure and bought a few rope lights, so at least we weren’t the only house in darkness. This year, I can only think I’ve gone completely bonkers. The children simply cannot believe this metamorphosis of light. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that if it existed, I’d be clearly in-line for the 2008 top prize. It’s simply the best in the street I reckon. Well that’s me I guess… if a job’s worth doing… I’ve now got lights to rival New York, all of course done with as much style as possible (given the medium we’re working with). Now I should point out that I’m not talking ‘Premiere League’ here, more Championship standard, to use an English football analogy. If, like some of the neighbours though, you buy several random items and position them randomly in the garden, you’ll inevitably end up with a random ‘Conference league’ sort of result, (to continue the analogy), but that’s just not me.

Sadly though, our street is now ‘known’ and features on the ‘must see’ Christmas lights tour of our area. People walking and driving past continuously between 7.30pm and 11.00pm I can deal with, but last night we had an ice-cream van parked outside our house for the whole time which got quite annoying after a while.

Reading this in the Northern Hemisphere (as most of my lovely loyal readers are) I would imagine that this might seem really quite odd to you. But I can assure you that the ice-cream man did a roaring trade helped along by a temperature still around 28°C/82°F at at 9.30pm.

So Mr bloody Rumpole of the bloody Bailey you have a lot to answer for, starting all this. And guess what? He moved out last month and his house, which admittedly still sits empty, is eerily and ironically in total darkness while the rest of the street positively buzzes with enough LEDs to be surely visible from outer space.

L’s bells!

Princess is very unhappy. She has lost her learner driver log book.

The day after her sixteenth birthday she sat for and passed the Driver Knowledge Test. She was then issued with her learner’s licence plus a log-book and was now legally entitled to drive on the road – accompanied by me of course. The log book is kept as proof that she will accumulate the 150 hours of driving experience necessary to be eligible to take the full ‘driving test’. Once passed, she can then drive alone, but must swap her L plates for red P plates (P stands for ‘provisional’ or ‘prat’ depending on how he or she is driving at the time). She will remain a P1 plate driver for 12-18 months and a variety of road rules apply, such as; she may not travel faster that 90kms/hour (56mph); being under 25, she’ll only be able to carry one passenger under the age of 21 between 11pm and 5am; and must have a zero blood alcohol concentration when driving.

Assuming she hasn’t had her provisional licence confiscated (100 drivers in NSW alone do so every day) and/or had her car impounded for doing burnouts, then for the second 12 month period she will progress onto P2 plates which are coloured green. Before these are issued however Princess will need to pass the Hazard Perception Test. Some of the P1 rules will still apply such as zero alcohol, but others will be relaxed. Another 12 months later she can finally apply for her full driving licence.

I wish I could say that as a result of this lengthy graduated licensing scheme, the log book system (unfortunately known to be fudged by some parents) and an increase in licence demerit points and fines, that we now have a very low incidence of teen deaths on our roads. Sadly, the number of P-plate driver deaths in NSW has not significantly reduced and people under 26 comprise only 15% of driver licences but are involved in 36% of road fatalities. A 17-year-old driver with a P1 licence is about four times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a driver aged 26 or older.

When I began my driving career, I remember just having a few dodgy lessons from my dad, grating the gears a couple of times then applying for my test. Okay, I failed it the first time as I was clearly still pants at driving, but I did go on and get it fairly soon afterward.

Needless to say, I found her log book after she had left for school hiding in the glove compartment of the other car. Really losing it though, would probably have been quite a big deal, as presumably she would have had to start all over again.

[Mental note to self. Photocopy log book]

bikini bye bye

bsp‘WHAT ON EARTH HAVE YOU DONE?’ shrieked Princess with enough venom to take down a herd of cattle.

There was less than four hours to go before her guests were due to arrive and the central focus of the party, namely our lovely blue spa, was currently doing a fantastic impression of that river in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

‘Well…’ I hesitantly begin to explain. ‘I suppose the heater must have gone a bit rusty over the winter, and when I turned it on just now, it all flushed…’

SLAM!

…the back door was closed on me ‘teen style’. The dog who didn’t see that coming, now stood trembling by the edge of the spa having nearly fallen in after an acrobatic 360° leap. I understood exactly why she was cross – I was cross too, for the very same reason. I just had a slightly different concern for not having the spa functioning. Her concern was that the ‘Bon Voyage Spa Rave’ would now be downgraded to just a ‘Farewell Rave’. My concern was that the twenty or so gorgeous female teen guests would no longer be parading round my back garden in their bikinis. There was nothing for it, I’d simply have to clean it out, and fast. I needed at least three hours just to heat it up.

As the clock struck 7:00pm, I appeared to have worked a miracle. The spa was crystal clear and a very tempting 35°C/95°F. As more and more girls arrived, the back garden blissfully transformed into something resembling the Playboy Mansion. Banned by Princess (metaphorically speaking) from playing any kind of Hugh Heffner type role, I decided to help serve the food and top-up their non-alcoholic drinks instead. At one point, suspicious of all the help she was getting, Working Mum fired me a cutting look from the kitchen as if to say ‘If-this-was-our-party-you-wouldn’t-be-doing-a-bloody-thing’. I just shrugged and mouthed back ‘These canapes aren’t going to serve themselves, are they dear?’. Over the shrieking teens, she replied something about her wanting to have a cold shower, so I just waved her off and carried on enjoying my role as waiter.

Muppet Dog was also having fun mingling with the girls. He however, was noticeably ahead of me on the getting attention points table. I put this down to the fact that Soldier Boy had dressed him up in Rodent Boy’s black ‘SECURITY’ t-shirt which made him look very funny.

All too soon though it was time for them to all go home. Much hugging and kissing went on as they departed leaving Princess feeling suitably farewell-ed. She leaves Australia to stay with her French exchange family in just over two weeks time. It will be so very strange not having her (or her friends) around for a whole seven weeks, not to mention the first Christmas we haven’t all been together. Still, with the magic of Skype we should still be able to see and talk to her on the big day – we’ll just be a lot warmer!

Mother update
Thank you for your messages of concern. The good news is that she ended up keeping her spleen and while she still remains in hospital, she is now out of intensive care. The bad news is that she killed two of her fish.

fpSunday morning was just ‘perfick’ as Pop Larkin would have described it. The weather – warm and sunny, the children – all at home for once, and the new coffee bean blend from the roaster – simply sublime. I knew it couldn’t last of course.

The phone rang…

‘Grandma’s in hospital.’ My announcement immediately bringing down our happy little poolside brunch.

‘She’s fallen in her fishpond.’

At this point, both her grandsons began sniggering like naughty schoolboys, much to the disgust of their sister.

‘Look I know it sounds funny…’ I said, trying hard not to also focus on the comedic aspect of the situation. ‘… she’s actually broken three ribs and ruptured her spleen. She’s in intensive care with blood in her urine… she’s really quite poorly.’

‘Are you going to go down to Tasmania to see her?’ asked Working Mum sensing my real concern.

My sister who found her and called the ambulance advised me there was little I could do at the moment. They have sedated her with morphine and she’s not really making much sense to anyone. So the recommendation is that I stay here in Sydney for now. I feel a bit helpless though… I can’t even call her as there are no phones in intensive care and her mobile is apparently still at the bottom of the pond. My sister is keeping me updated on her progress and whether or not the spleen will need to be removed.

‘Where exactly is Grandma’s spoon?’ queried Rodent Boy.

Princess, ignoring her younger brother’s anatomical ignorance, inquired herself. ‘What happens if they have to remove Grandma’s spleen?

‘Yes Dad, please ‘ex-spleen’!’ said Soldier Boy quick as a flash. I’m sure this boy will be cracking jokes at my funeral.

Actually, thinking about it, I really hope he does.

Hollow-ween

hwMajor work deadlines to deal with at the moment so please expect limited posting for the next week or two. I’m under pain of death from Working Mum not to put blogging before my domestic duties. Mrs Rottweiler – my client for the next fortnight – is frankly, even scarier than WM when mad, so I certainly won’t be borrowing any of her time either.

Nine-year-old Rodent Boy was as enthusiastic as ever this year and simply couldn’t wait to go trick or treating last Friday night. His two apathetic siblings however, stopped finding the enthusiasm necessary to dress-up and hawk themselves around the neighbourhood some years back – even if it did mean forgoing a big bag of goodies. I suggested to Soldier Boy that he could combine it with his junk mail delivery, but convinced this was some kind of ‘brother supervision’ trick, passed up the opportunity. Rodent Boy though, excitedly dressed up in what he could find amongst the contents of our ever-dwindling dress-up box. Decked out in mostly black with a small cape and a trilby hat, he looked like a slightly camp vampire Frank Sinatra. With the absence of any fake blood or indeed vampire teeth, he smeared Working Mum’s best red lipstick around his mouth, which according to him, made it look like he’d been sucking blood. Unfortunately, he actually just looked like a he’d been snogging a pig – I feigned being really scared all the same. Still at least he’d made an effort, as did a couple of his mates – though not sure ‘Superman’ is what Halloween is really all about. The thing that annoys me though, is the one kid who refuses to dress up, then tags along scoring just as many lollies [sweets/candy] as the rest of them.

Following a trip to the city with his crew (who are mostly girls), 13-year-old Soldier Boy now sports what looks like a large brown birthmark on his cheek. He calls it his ‘love freckle’. I call it being a prat in a department store and letting a girlfriend spray you in the face with a can of fake tan.

Princess lost her mobile phone this week and has suggested that I should go halves buying her another one. She claims the phone provides the vital link between herself and the family she so dearly loves. Apparently we would be so much the poorer without this communication. It seems to me that I’d be poorer either way and given she has more disposable income than I do these days, what with babysitting, leaflet delivery and working in the bakery, I politely, and quite rightly, declined the request.