Thursday, November 23, 2006

Forty Amazing Things

My sister Annette wrote on her birthday card to me that I should do forty amazing things this year.

I have taken her advice, and this year, before I turn 41, I plan to fulfill that dream.

I have gotten off to a great start too. In the three weeks since my birthday I have managed to experience four amazing things, so I am well on the way to success.

Follow this link for the chronicles of my adventures.

Do It Now

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world, and the second biggest kille after lung cancer.

Routine screening is recommended for those over 50, but can (and should in many cases) be done once you are over 40.

I have made my appointment: you should too.





Pat Ingoldsby

Pat Ingoldsby is an Irish phenomenon. Poet and playwright, people of my generation also knew him from his children’s TV programmes such as Pat’s Hat.

His poetry is wonderful: simple and honest, the poems vary from hilariously funny to painfully sad. He is one of my favourite poets, and my favourite of his books is called “Welcome to my Head: Please Remove your Boots”.Ten or so years ago, Pat withdrew from the Irish mass media. He set up his own publishing company, Willow Publications, and appointed his cats to positions of authority such as CEO and Head of Accounts. He sells his books through a small number of bookstores in Ireland, and also sells directly to the public on the streets of Dublin.

His books carry a note that they are protected by the "Bratislava Accord 1993, section 2 cre/009 manifest-minsk", the terms of which allegedly protect his book's content from being included in school textbooks, examinations, elocution classes or anything with the word "Arts" in it.

My mother and I came across him on the corner of O’Connell Bridge in Dublin, when I was over there in October. He was sitting on an upturned milk-crate with his books laid out in front of him. In his trademark Drizabone coat and wide-brimmed hat, he looked comfortable watching the world hurry by. I was star-struck: “That’s Pat Ingoldsby!” I whispered to my mum over the traffic noises. I tried not to stare too much as we walked past to cross the bridge. Then I came to my senses, and retraced my steps.

Shyly I stood before him, pretending to look at the titles of his books. He caught my eye and I asked if he had a copy of “Welcome to my Head”. We got talking and I told him I was a huge fan. He was such a lovely, gentle man, speaking about his books as if they were his children. I introduced myself to him and he said “God, I’m delighted to meet you Máiréad”.

He was charming to my mum. When I told him she was about to celebrate her 80th birthday, he gallantly told her she only looked 64 (later she complained he was three years out as the lowest number she’d been quoted so far was 60).

I bought one of his books and he signed it for me. Mum took a photo of us standing there on Westmoreland Street, and I shook his hand and said goodbye.

If this had happened to me after 25 October, it would certainly have been included in my 40 Amazing Things To Do This Year. But it was about ten days too early. I will have to include it in the Twenty Or So Amazing Things I Did Last Year.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

More Sad Times

This past week has been a sad time for Orlando. As many of you know, his dear mum passed away peacefully on Friday 10 November. He is in London right now for the funeral, and I am holding the fort here at home.

If you see him, give him a hug from me.

One Aussie Year

Exactly one year ago today, Orlando and I stepped off a plane from Shanghai into our new Aussie life.

The weather was disappointing - chilly and blustery - much like it is today. But within days it heated up and we had a wonderful summer.

When we arrived, we knew very few people not related to me. We had a lovely house, thanks to Lee, but not one stick of furniture. Our belongings got stuck in Customs and we wore our backpacking clothes for a month. We slept on cardboard boxes on the floor, boiled water in a saucepan for tea, and for the first few nights we had no electricity. We had no jobs, and no interviews lined up. But we had funds in the bank, good resumes and a determination to succeed.

One year on I won't say we are completely settled, but we have come a long way. Our house is now a home, filled with our own things and furnished comfortably. We have a small circle of great friends we can rely on to support us. We were both working within a week of arriving, and both got pretty good jobs within a couple of months.

We miss our family and friends back in Europe so much, and it always seems so far away. But our life here is good: our quality of life has certainly improved. We live a Mediterranean lifestyle in a beautiful city famous for its good food, great wines and burgeoning cultural life. We eat out a lot, and I certainly enjoy living so close to some world-class wineries. We work with great people and Orlando gets to see a lot of the country through his job. We rarely experience dreadful cold, or bad traffic, or even bad pizza. Life is good.

Here's to year two.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Billy Joel

Billy Joel came to town at the weekend, and Eileen, Kelvin, Mena and I went along (you didn't think Orlando came with us, did you?).

The Rod Laver Arena was full: fifteen thousand fans, some of whom have been coming to see Billy Joel perform here for over thirty years.

The concert was fantastic. From the moment the grand piano rose from the belly of the stage he had our complete attention. He played for a solid two hours, hit after hit, jumping from the nineties to the seventies and back again.

He engaged with the people in the "bad" seats behind him, and those in the cheap seats right at the back of the auditorium. He gave the audience the choice of what he would play next.

But most of all he played and sang and entertained. His voice was strong, his backing group awesome, and the light display theatrical. Highlights for me included Allentown, My Life and Movin' Out. He didn't get to play some of my other favourites, but he had so much to choose from.

In a surprise performance, the lead singer of AC/DC joined him on stage (introduced as a guitar roadie getting his first break) and belted out Highway to Hell. The Aussie crowd bellowed its appreciation as Joel took his guitar to the back platform of the stage and did his best impersonation of Angus Young, AC/DC's school-boy lead guitarist.

New York State of Mind was a poignant but powerful memory of the time he performed that song with the helmet of a fallen firefighter on his piano, days after the World Trade Centre attacks.

For me, the pinnacle had to be his final encore - the song we'd been waiting for all night. As he placed the harmonica holder over his head the crowd cheered in anticipation, and the first notes of Piano Man were heard. Fifteen thousand fans sang quietly along with him. word perfect through the first verse. It was just a man and his piano, and he held us all in the palm of his hand.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bollywood Movie Stars Party

It was the party of the year (well, in my diary it was the only party in the year). A Bollywood Movie Stars bash to celebrate my 40th birthday: it doesn’t get any better than this.

Twenty or so of my family and closest friends gathered on 4th November dressed in what can only be described as Bollywood-tastic outfits to dance the night away.

Eileen and Kelvin won the Most Fabulous Outfits award with their stunning outfits from Little India in Dandenong.

My family made a great effort too: Lee looked sophisticated and graceful in a black and silver sari, and Mena had more Bollywood Bling than the rest of us put together.

Orlando looked rugged and handsome in his all-black kurta pajama, and has made such a fuss of me throughout all my birthday celebrations. He is a superstar.

Photo Gallery

Other highlights of the evening included:

Paul Curran as a Bollywood Bad Guy, complete with maximum eyeliner, dark glasses and shark’s tooth medallion

Damien’s Derby Day extreme facial sunburn including a rather fetching white band where his sunglasses had been (it turns out some people thought he'd made himself up to look like that)

The Irish contingent doing the entire (it seemed) Riverdance, then Mena and Mairead’s solo reel, finished by Mena, Mairead, Eileen and Carmel in full Indian regalia doing a full set of the Walls of Limerick

Mena leading the soca dancing into the wee hours (“Follow me – I’m the leader of the parade!”) ("This is the music of my soul!")

Sam’s amazing bum-wiggling dance which reduced all women present to tears

Sam and Paul's talented dance interpretation of the song "A-E-I-O-U" by Freeez: popular consensus is that Paul's "E" was particularly impressive and rendered all audience members helpless with laughter

The main conversation in the back yard about which song you want played as the last song at your funeral (and if you didn't make a choice it was going to be November Rain by Guns N Roses)

Kelvin dancing, full stop

Kelvin almost being tempted to sip some rum instead of red wine

Mena at 5am having a smoke: "I am the oldest one here, the birds are singing and I am the last one partying"

Mena about the Irish dancing - "You are all doing it wrong, here let me show you"

Eileen about the Irish dancing - "You are all doing it wrong, here let me show you"

Lee talking to Orlando - "Now let me guess which food you put out: the cake and the popcorn"

Lee - "The thing I like about this sari is that I can breathe out and it hides my belly"

Carmel - "The thing I like about this sari is that I can breathe out and it hides my belly"

Orlando - "I am going over there to act as a buffer between Sam and the TV"

Paul's AEIOU - " I am not happy with my 'E' I have to rethink this"

Sam about raising children "I have a secret weapon, it is called music"

Mairead talking about cooking for the party - "...So I said to myself, I will show him, I will make the Tandoori chicken red..."

Paul takes off his sunglasses "I thought it was a bit dark in here, and I could not work it out..."

Sam dancing with Carmel - "Grab me from behind"

Paul talks to Orlando about dancing with Sam's wife -"I don't think it is your hands that he is worried about"

Orlando teaching Sam and Amanda soca - "Get in closer, don't be shy, you are married"

Mena (a number of times in the evening) - "I'm back!!!"

Mena (a number of times in the evening) - "Why is it that every time I go to the toilet, all I can hear is people calling 'Where's Mena?'"

The delicious food that everybody brought

Mairead and Eileen trying to do their much-awaited Party Piece, drunk, unprepared, and with at least one Achilles tendon injury; but their smiles never faltered: divas to the last

Paul and Carmel vainly trying to teach Sam and Amanda to twirl properly like Irish dancers

Thanks to all my friends for making such a huge effort on the night. Nobody knew more than one or two other people but you'd never have known it - the noise of the conversation was deafening and the dancing spirited to say the least. Thanks for all my beautiful cards and gifts too - it was the most special birthday for me and I am delighted you could share it!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Back with a Vengeance

Yes, I?m back after a lengthy absence, but I guess most of you have seen me in one place or another in October so you all know what I've been up to!

After almost exactly a year, it was fantastic to spend a couple of weeks back in Dublin with the family. It was my mother's 80th birthday so there was plenty to celebrate. Joe, Elva and I also got to celebrate our joint 40th - one just past, and two impending - with a wonderful Thai dinner and a glass or two of red.London, on the other hand, was a blur.

I hardly stopped from the moment I arrived, and was glad of the little sleep I got on the flight back to Aus. Fiona was a gracious hostess, even laying on lunch for my visitors, and I loved getting to know her two daughters Harriet and Lottie all over again.

Thanks to all the LAS crew who came to see me in the Stage Door and beyond on the Thursday night. It was really like old times to be back amongst you again. I did panic when the night was over: it was something I had looked forward to for months and suddenly it was all over. There are no photos yet (am waiting for Huggy) but I am sure there will be one or two memorable ones!

The Friday night was no less enjoyable - twenty more close friends ate, drank and talked the evening away in Mar i Terra. I feel as if I didn't have enough time to talk for long enough to everybody, but your presence was so much appreciated. Mo, don't forget the photos!

There are links to the photos of the various nights on the front page so I hope you enjoy going through them.

Finally, congratulations to Lee and Fi on the safe arrival of baby Jake, who completes their trio of beautiful boys. He arrived on 27 October and so joins the ranks of the most powerful beings on earth: Scorpios.

Back here in Melbourne, it has been a hectic but amazing weekend celebrating my Big 4-0 with the Bollywood Movie Stars party on Saturday night. Check out for links to the photo galleries.

Normal service will now be resumed, and I promise more website and blog updates in the coming weeks, including the much awaited Desert Island Discs compilation. To those of you who are still outstanding (you know who you are): GET WRITING!