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Week 12: An early work challenge

Week 12 arrived and I already had a challenge scheduled in my diary for the week ahead – a person with a plan – get me!  This week my challenge was to be work related; the first work related challenge of my 52 week journey. The fact that I was able to find a work related challenge was pretty darn exciting for me.

You see, when I first made the decision to move back to the small town of my childhood I had just enough time to ponder whether (a) I would be in the town long enough to require a job; and (b) if I was going to be in town long enough to require a job, whether I would actually be able to find a job. With one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and a scarcity of jobs for which I had been accustomed, I was doubtful that I would find anything suitable in said town, let alone anything that would challenge me.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think I would be sticking around town long enough to require a place of work. That was a difficult realisation, because inherent in that realisation was the fact that my dad was not going to be with us for very long. So whilst I didn’t really fancy being in the town, I also didn’t fancy leaving, because of what leaving would actually mean to my family. It was a very difficult place to be in emotionally. (If you have no idea what I am talking about, you may wish to recap on why I started this challenge which you can do here).

As it turned out, one week before I was due to board the plane that would take me from my beloved London, a friend rang me to let me know about a job opportunity that had just opened up in my home town (and I would like to take a moment here to thank that friend for looking out for me – you are my guardian angel). Whilst it wouldn’t be at the same level as the jobs I held in the past, it did fit easily within my skill set and it was in the exact area of my expertise. I could not believe that my home town would have such a job available, and at the exact time that I was on the lookout for a job. It was the craziest and best coincidence I could have hoped for. In fact, no one could have written the script better for my life at that moment. To make a long story short, I applied for and got the job and started just over a month after I moved back to my home town. It was a true Hollywood storyline in real life, albeit with the main character played by me rather than Angelina Jolie.

Rightio then, now that the scene has been set, I can move on to the challenge for the week. Drum roll please [I’ll have to leave this drum roll to your imagination as I have no idea how to add sound effects to this blog]……..

My challenge for this week was to give a presentation in front of 100 of the town’s finest business men, women and Councillors. Whilst presenting in front of crowds was not a new thing for me, the time of day of the presentation certainly was. You see, I was going to give the presentation at a 6:30am breakfast function. That is where the challenge (and new experience) kicked in.

Now some of you may be thinking – so what? Why would this be a challenge? Some others, those who know me well, will be laughing their socks off (banana bean, I know you are – I can hear you from here). Because those who know me well know that this little lady is not a morning person. No siree Bob. I do not like mornings. Never have, probably never will. Whilst I can force myself out of bed for my 530am boot camp sessions 3 days a week (it helps that I always have a shot of coffee before I leave the house) that is a brand new phenomenon, and one that doesn’t require any brain power, just some strong motivation (and strong coffee).  Mornings and I…well, we have never been friends. We tolerate each other because we have to. So, for me, having to be coherent and mentally alert at 630am was going to be a challenge. But I knew that it was important for the program I was working on, and therefore I agreed that I would attend and present despite the hour of the day.

And that was how I found myself talking to the mayor of the town surrounded by a room full of people at a time when I should have been lying in bed, or rousing myself gently with a morning coffee. Ahhhhh mingling and oozing charm in high heels at 6:30am – how my life had changed!

With great thanks I gulped down the coffee and breakfast that were provided, all the while mentally coaching myself to stay awake and look alert. Then before I knew it, the time had come for my presentation. By my side was my very lovely co-presenter, and together we took to the stage to spruik our message. The presenting part was easy – after years of theatre and speech and drama lessons I was confident being in front of an audience. And thanks to the large amount of coffee I had consumed I was very much alert and able to remember all of the information that we wanted to get across. Happy days.

I can happily report that we generated a lot of attention and interest for our program; in fact, we really couldn’t have asked for a better reception. By the end of the presentation I was feeling pretty darn proud of myself for (a) being coherent at ungodly o’clock; (b) not tripping over my feet or the microphone cord; (c) not stumbling over my words; (d) remembering what it was that I had to say; (e) not falling asleep during the spiel; and (f) gaining the interest of the crowd at such an early hour of the day. And better still, the weekly challenge was completed by 745am.

I would just like to take a minute now to acknowledge my key supporter for this challenge – coffee. I really could not have completed this challenge without coffee, and I would like to say a very big thank you to coffee for all that it has given me, not just today, but over the years. I owe so much to the coffee bean, and I am just so happy to know that wherever I go, and whatever I do in life, coffee will always be right by my side, egging me on and helping me to achieve my goals and dreams. Coffee, I thank you for all of your support, and for your role in making me the person that I am today. I could not have done it without you. You are my inspiration, my motivation. Coffee – you rock my world and make me a better person.

Reflection time

So what have I learnt this week from my new experience? Well I have learnt that:

  • I can be coherent, charming and well dressed at 630am – who knew?!
  • There is a great sense of achievement in completing important work tasks before 8am.
  • When I set my mind to something, I can achieve it. Anyone can. Sometimes you may have to make sacrifices, but if you put in the effort, the rewards will come.
  • The work day is very long when it starts at the crack of dawn.
  • I may be slightly addicted to coffee.

And with that, I say farewell to another week. Until next time, remember:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” ~ Wayne Gretzky

The project we presented

The project we presented

Week 11: Hoy, cent sale, and inspiring strangers

Helloooooooo week 11. I was looking forward to my new experience this week – attending a Hoy and cent sale afternoon.

Before I delve into the experience, I feel the need to raise a technicality regarding my experience this week. This was not the first time in my life that I have attended a Hoy and cent sale afternoon.

[Pause for effect………………ok, continue on]

When I was 4 or so years old my grandmother took me along, on several occasions, to similar afternoons. However, I am classing this as a new experience as this was the first time I was going to such an afternoon as an adult. Furthermore, given that I hadn’t played the game for 30 years, and the last time my grandmother essentially played it on my behalf as I was too young to be able to play on my own, being responsible for my own game would be a new experience. And most importantly, I am the maker of the rules of this challenge, and I decree this a new experience and hence in keeping with my 52-week challenge. Now that is out of the way we can move on…

I have very fond memories of my afternoons spent with my grandmother playing Hoy with the (generally older) ladies at the CWA (Country Woman’s Association for those not in the know), being spoiled with cakes and winning things in the cent sale. So when I learned that some of the women from my exercise class were hosting a Christmas Hoy and cent sale I was determined to go. And because I had such fond memories from attending when I was a child, I asked my niece if she would like to go with me. She readily agreed.

Off my niece and I trotted on a glorious Sunday afternoon to a hall at the seaside where we were greeted warmly by some lovely ladies who walked us through the process for the day – buy some raffle tickets, buy some tickets for the cent sale, get our game cards, look at the craft that was on sale, find a seat. I also had to work out how to play the game. After all, I had been a child when I played the game the last time, and that was quite some years ago (I don’t like being reminded how many years ago that was!)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the game of Hoy, it is very similar to that of bingo. But rather than play with balls, the caller uses a deck of playing cards. Each player has at least one sheet with 13 cards marked on it (including the number and suit of each card), and players must mark off all of the cards on their sheet before anyone else and shout “hoy” to be crowned the winner. The game play sounded quite simple and my niece and I were quietly confident that we were ready for the challenge. And then the caller started…

My word the game was fast-paced! And the women in the hall were dab hands at the game. We were having our butts kicked by septuagenarians! It certainly took a lot more concentration than I thought it would and we didn’t win a single game. But we laughed our way through it and enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. The cent sale was also a lot of fun. Effectively a cent sale is a big raffle in which you buy multiple tickets to win a random prize – of which there were at least 40 – some good, and some, well, very funny (2 cans of baked beans was one of the prizes). The ladies were so sweet and asked my niece to be one of the people to hand out the prizes. She loved it and I loved them for asking her. And we even managed to get ourselves a good prize – happy days!

To top the afternoon off we were fed yummy cakes and sandwiches, along with the obligatory cup of tea (and cordial for my niece). Before we knew it 3 hours had gone by. The ladies were truly lovely and both my niece and I had a great time.

I was also randomly surprised with a new experience this week; an experience that I didn’t have to do anything to achieve. Another blogger, someone who I have never met or spoken to in my life, read my blog and was so inspired by it that she started her own personal challenge (you can read all about it here). I was totally blown away by this unexpected event. To know that you have inspired someone who you have never met is such a gift. And knowing that someone else was inspired by my journey in turn inspired me to stick with my own challenge.

Livvy, I wish you all the best for your own personal challenge and look forward to reading all about it. For those who are interested, you can read Livvy’s blog here.  She is an award-winning blogger and her posts are definitely worth a read.

All in all week 11 turned out to be a great week.

A moment of reflection:

So what did I learn this week? I am so glad you asked! I learnt that:

  • Hoy is not as easy as it first appears to be.
  • Septuagenarians are card sharks.
  • Hanging out with a room full of older people can be a whole lot of fun. I get a lot of joy from listening to the stories of older people. Older people have so much to give to society, and it saddens me that Western culture does not recognise that in the way that many Eastern cultures do. We could really learn a lot from the respect that elders receive in other parts of the world. I encourage everyone to take more time to listen to the stories of the older generations, and to spend time in their company. It won’t be time wasted.  
  • My niece and I can have a lot of fun whatever we are doing and wherever we find ourselves – and that is an important thing to be able to do in life. So many people go through life looking at things in a negative light, and never looking for the good and the fun in life. I find that very sad. Despite the sadness that my family has experienced this year, we are still able to get up every day and look for the positives. I am glad that I am able to be part of showing my niece how to look at the bright side of life, and I hope that in years to come she too will demonstrate this to others.
  • You never know when or how your words or actions can inspire someone else.
  • A can of baked beans should never be classed as a prize.

And on that note, I bid you adieu, and leave you with a final thought for the day:

A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.”  ~ Hugh Downs

P1050005

Week 10: Santa Claus run

Week 10 rolled around quickly, and it was drawing very near to Christmas (readers may note that while I am talking about Christmas I am actually writing this blog in April. Yes, I am a little far behind due to some life circumstances that will become clear in the coming weeks on this blog. However, I have still been completing my challenges every week and am doing my utmost to catch up on writing about them. Please stick with me – I have made a commitment to a year of new things, and I intend to keep to that commitment and write about it here. And there are some big new things coming up that I have already achieved or plan to achieve, and I can’t wait to share them here on this blog!).

Back to December….and the perfect time to search for a Christmas-themed challenge. As it happened, this week I came across a fun run. And not just any fun run. A Santa Claus fun run. Yes, this was no ordinary run – in order to participate in this run, one was required to dress as Santa Claus.

Now please allow me to digress for a moment on the topic of Santa Claus. The story of Santa Claus is a lovely one but there is one major flaw in the story for the millions of people living in the southern hemisphere – there is no snow on this side of the world in December. In fact, it is hot; damn hot! Because it is summer. Santa Claus and all of the wintry tales of Christmas work very well when one experiences Christmas in winter time. But the whole idea falls apart when one is sweating it out in 30+ degree Celsius heat.

I have been lucky enough to experience a few winter Christmas’, including one in Lapland – home of Santa Claus. And it made a lot of sense to see a fat man dressed in his winter warmers whilst singing along to Christmas carols that speak of winter wonderlands, sleigh bells ringing and snow glistening in lanes. But here in Australia it is – well let’s be totally honest – ridiculous and illogical to dress as Santa Claus and sing of frosty the snowman when one is dripping with sweat and cranking up the air conditioning to stay cool.

And before you say it – yes I know we have one Australian Christmas carol. One. One whole Christmas carol that speaks of Christmas in summer time – “Six White Boomers” – one of the most annoying Christmas Carols ever. But Christmas as it is traditionally portrayed does not work in Australia; and yes, I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about it! And while I am having a whinge – what in the heck does a “bee in your bonnet” actually mean? Who comes up with these sayings?! Well actually, I can tell you who comes up with these sayings because I bought a book on where popular sayings come from (I know, I am so cool). Apparently this particular saying is thought to stem from the 16th Century saying “to have a head full of bees” and was paired with the notion of a bonnet by poet Robert Henrrick in 1648 in his poem ‘Mad Maid’s Song’. Bet you didn’t think you would learn anything reading this blog today – but now you have. You’re welcome.

Ok, so back to the story where I find myself agreeing to a 5km fun run dressed as Santa Claus in the heat of summer. The run was in aid of charity, and was definitely meant to be more “fun” than a serious “run”. And for the entry price one not only got to donate to a good cause, one also got a Santa Claus outfit. The organisers were definitely on their game in choosing the outfit to fit with the weather conditions – lightweight shorts, wraparound jacket, hat and beard. An outfit fit for the summer….well as long as one wasn’t planning on running any distance in it that is!

I was not worried about the running part of the day – I had been doing bootcamp now for 4 months and was also a recreational jogger, so a 5km course was going to be relatively easy and didn’t require any intense training. Which was lucky since I only signed up to participate the week of the race! I was, however, a little concerned about how I would survive the heat when dressed as Jolly Old St Nick.

Race day dawned bright and sunny – a good and bad thing (on the one hand it wasn’t raining; on the other, it was hot) and I found myself driving to a park to dress up as Santa Claus at 6:30 on a Sunday morning in summer in Queensland. It did make me consider my sanity for a minute or two.

Upon arrival I was greeted by numerous Santas and provided with my outfit for the morning’s event. Sexy Santa I was not – but then, nor was anyone else. The atmosphere was one of frivolity as the sea of Santas grew. I found a number of people who I knew and we entertained ourselves by climbing on the jungle gym to get a photo or 12.

As a warm up, the race organisers held a mass Zumba class – 150 or so Santas sashaying away to “Gangham Style” – it was a sight to behold. Then before I knew it, the start time had rolled around and I was lining up to run for the first time ever as Santa Claus. I was already sweating before I started – not a great sign of things to come.

I find that the first kilometre of any run is always the hardest, and this one was made all the more difficult by having to constantly adjust my Santa suit while running to ensure my Santa jacket stayed done up and my Santa shorts did not fall down around my knees causing me to fall on my face with my bum in the air (hello front page of the NewMail). Definitely no PB was going to be had in this run then! (Just thought I should point out that I was wearing my usual running gear underneath the suit – there was no fear of a nudey run at any stage! And I also note that I have once again mentioned my bum in my blog. I did say a few posts ago that I would stop doing that, but there it is again. My bum. Bum, bum, bum. Ok, I think it is out of my system now. No more bum references.)

I also quickly learnt that running with a beard strapped to your face is not comfortable; and in fact, is quite irritating. But I wanted to keep to the theme of the run and was determined to keep my Santa suit on throughout the duration of the race despite the discomfort.

However, by around 3.5km into the run I was really feeling the heat and decided that the jacket and beard would have to go. When one is running in 30 degrees Celsius temperatures and 70% humidity, jackets and beards are not really the best idea. So I am a little sad to say that while I finished the race, I was only half the Santa I was at the start of the race.

Apart from the heat and mild discomfort from the outfit, it was quite amusing to be running along with a group of Santas past people who clearly had no idea what was going on – we certainly did cause a bit of a commotion with those who were out and about early enough to be greeted by such a sight. And the organisers had taken the time to write some fun notes in chalk on the pavement which kept the participants entertained for the duration of the 5kms.

So all in all, whilst it was a very hot and sometimes uncomfortable run, it was a really fun morning, and the organisers, runners and general crowd were all fantastic. I had a great time, I raised some money for charity, I got my morning exercise, and I felt great for the rest of the day – a good result all round.

Introspection time out

From my Santa Claus fun run experience (and subsequent writing about it) I have learnt that:

  • Santa costumes and running should not mix.
  • That you can have fun and run at the same time – go figure!
  • That if you make an effort to do something, you will be rewarded in any number of ways. For example, by making an effort to get up at 5:45am on a Sunday to dress as Santa Claus and run for 5km, I managed to raise money for charity, get some exercise, meet some new people, and have a lot of laughs. It is important to make the effort, even when the activity is outside your comfort zone. Good things come to those that make an effort. So many people waste their lives waiting for something to happen to them, when really, they should be putting in a bit of effort to MAKE something happen.
  • I have an issue with Christmas in summer time.

Another week down; 42 more to go. So I say sayonara for this week and leave you with the following thought of the day from the musical Avenue Q:

“There is life outside your apartment.
I know it’s hard to conceive.
But there’s life outside your apartment.
And you’re only gonna see it if you leave.
There is cool shit to do,
But it can’t come to you….
There is life outside your apartment.
But you gotta open the door.”

Introducing running Santa Claus

Introducing running Santa Claus

Santa Claus Jungle Gym

Santa Claus Jungle Gym

On your marks Santas

On your marks Santas

Week 9: Shellac and 4 Wheel Driving

In my last post I was leaving Bangkok after a fantastic week and a day playing tourist and working on a professional children’s show. Originally after my week in Bangkok I was to fly straight back to my small town home via the nearest big city. However, just three weeks before I left for my adventure I received a phone call from a very dear friend. “Hey love,” she said. “Just checking to see if you would be able to make it to Canberra in three weeks for my wedding?” Um, ok, so I knew she was getting married, but the wedding was meant to be much later down the track. Sadly, the family had received some news and so my lovely friend and her charming beau had decided to fast-track the wedding.

As it turned out, I was flying in from Bangkok a few days before the wedding date, so a quick revision of plans and an additional couple of flight bookings later I was all set to celebrate my friends’ nuptials.

I arrived in Canberra after 15 hours of travel, tired but excited to be returning to the place I called home for nearly 5 years before I made my move to London. It was my second trip to Canberra in 7 months and I was looking forward to catching up with some of my closest friends, not to mention celebrating a much anticipated wedding.

This is all very nice, I can hear you thinking (again with my psychic ability – maybe I should forge a new career in the other-worldly domain), but what does this have to do with your weekly challenge?! Well keep your pants on, I am getting there. I am just taking the long route. You know, painting a picture and all that.

So there I am in Canberra looking a little bedraggled from my hard work and outings in Bangkok when I look down at my fingernails and realise with a start that I no longer have well kempt nails. No siree Bob! I was now sporting jagged, split and altogether mangy looking nails thanks to the demands of costume fitting and prop-making in Bangkok. Who knew that the job would take such a toll? Now I know this was far from the end of the world, but when one is due to attend a black-tie wedding, one must be looking the best that they can. And for women, this includes nails of both the finger and toe variety.

Now the painting and shaping of nails does not fall under my many and varied skills, so there was nothing else for it – I would have to have a manicure and pedicure. I know; it’s a hard life for some. This is where I hit upon a problem – how would I get to a nail salon without transport? I was staying with close friends but they were out and about, and my other friends were all working (go figure, working on a week day!). Happily my friend with whom I was bunking whilst in Canberra said that I could borrow her husband’s car for the day. Excellent! Well it was excellent until I realised that the car in question was a 4WD.

Those who know me well would already be laughing about this turn of events. You see, I am not known for my proficient driving and parking skills. My parking, in particular, leaves a lot to be desired. My car parking space at work, for example, requires the execution of a reverse parallel park. Horrendous. My daily parking in this spot brings much merriment to my colleagues, and I often receive a not-so-great rating out of 10 for my efforts. Needless to say I was petrified of driving the 4WD (I had never driven one before) and absolutely stunned that my friend trusted me with the (very snazzy) vehicle. “Don’t worry”, she said. “It is automatic, it has a reversing camera, front and back sensors, and great steering. Even you can’t go wrong in this car”. Such confidence; bless her.

Getting into the car almost required a step ladder (really these vehicles are not made for short people). Once inside I took a deep calming breath and started the car (of course I had already adjusted the seat, put my seatbelt on and checked the mirrors – I’m a safety girl). So far so good. Now to reverse out of the driveway. Putting the car into reverse I was happy to see the reverse camera click in. What a great invention! No need to look over one’s shoulder – the reverse view is right in front of you on the rear-view mirror. Excellent. Slowly I started to reverse. Things were looking good. Then BEEEEEEPPPP went the sensors. Scared the living bejesus out of me I can tell you! Clearly I came too close to the garage door (to my credit there wasn’t that much room to move). Adjusting my direction I managed to make it out of the driveway without too much difficulty and only one further beep.

And then I was loose on the roads – look out Canberra! It was quite strange to be sitting so high up (my car is of the sports variety so sits quite low to the ground). I know that for many such transportation is an every-day occurrence. But for me it was a new experience, and I must say I quite enjoyed it. No doubt it would have been more enjoyable if I had not been so scared about harming the car or the other people on the road!

Yay for me I made it through the 20 minute drive into the city without an incident. Great stuff. Now to find a car space and park the monster. This was something I was not looking forward to.
Driving around the car park I spotted two vacant parking spaces – it was my lucky day. I would have enough room to manoeuvre without worrying about hitting another car. I parked with no trouble (only the one beep from the sensors) and off I went in search of a nail salon.

(Note: if there are any guys reading this blog you may want to skip the next few paragraphs unless you really want to hear all about the trials and tribulations of nail polish).

Having found a well-priced salon and booked in a mani – pedi, I set about choosing my colours. That is when I remembered that recently I had been admiring a friend’s nails and asked her how she managed to keep the colour on for so long without it chipping and looking tired. “It’s Shellac” she told me. Sher-who? “It’s like a long-lasting nail polish that doesn’t chip for weeks and always looks salon perfect”. It sounded too good to be true, but given that my usual nail polish efforts hardly last a day I was willing to give it a go.

Now ladies, most of us know the joy that is a mani-pedi, so I won’t go into the details. It certainly wasn’t my first time, and it won’t be my last. But it was my first time getting Shellac and I was a bit surprised by the drawn out process. The process starts normally enough with a coat of nail polish. Then you place your hand (or foot) under a UV light for 60 seconds, after which another coat is painted on. This is then followed by another stint under the UV light. This process goes on 4 times for each hand and foot. I have to say it did get a little tedious, but the result was worth it! Gorgeous looking, glossy, strong nails. And, I am happy to report, the polish does indeed stay on for many weeks without any chipping. In fact, to get it off one must soak your nails for a long time in acetone nail polish remover and then scrub quite hard to get the darn stuff off!

I loved my new nails and found myself marvelling at them often over the next few hours, especially while driving home in the 4WD (which I had no problem reversing out of the car park apart from two minor beeps from the sensors when I came too close to the car behind me when reversing out of said parking space).

All in all I managed my two challenges for the week with a minimum of fuss. Ok, so I wouldn’t really say that getting my nails done was a challenge, but the Shellac was a new experience and it therefore fits within the criteria of my “do something new every week for 52 weeks” challenge. And after my hectic 8 days in Bangkok, it was a very much needed easy challenge for the week!

My friend’s wedding was sublime – beautiful and a lot of fun, just like the couple themselves. I was so glad that I was able to make it, and it was wonderful to catch up with people that I hadn’t seen for many years. It reminded me of the lyrics from the Cheers theme song:

“Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to go where people know
People are all the same
You want to go where everybody knows your name”

Introspection time-out

So what did I learn this week? Well in a nutshell I learnt that:

• Shellac is ‘the bomb’ (as the cool kids and homies would say).

• Parking and reversing is sooooo much easier with a reversing camera.

• Driving a 4WD can make you feel quite powerful. This can be a good and bad thing.

• I have very trusting friends, for which I am supremely grateful. They believe in my abilities even when I don’t believe in them myself. It is so important to have such people in your life. They can lift you up and send you on your way to greatness (or at least, send you on your way to driving a big-arse car). To have people believe in you when you are struggling to believe in yourself is such a powerful experience, and I so hope that everyone has at least one person like that in their lives.

• I will not be trading in my car anytime soon for a 4WD.

And thus endeth another week. Until next week, remember:

“Never be afraid to try something new because life gets boring when you stay within the limits of what you already know” ~ Unknown

Week 8(b): Crew member for a professional children’s show

So in my last post I wrote that my sister offered me a one-off opportunity to work on a professional children’s show in Bangkok for a week. If you read that post you would have heard all about my Bangkok adventures – the good, the bad, and the eye-watering. This week I bring you the second instalment of my week in Bangkok– working backstage on a professional children’s show.

A quick recap: One day in the not so distant past my big sister called and asked me whether I would like to work on one of her shows in Bangkok for a week. My response was swift – “Hell yes” – even before she told me what would be involved. To be fair she could have told me anything and I would have agreed to do it, especially after she told me that my flight, accommodation, food and local travel would all be paid for by the company. Not only that, I would get paid for my work on the show (insert happy dance here!).

So what was the job? I can reveal that the job was…drum roll please… ta dahhhhhh – Wardrobe and Props Assistant (WaPA for short) for a show called ‘The Little Big Club’. And what does a WaPA do? Well I am so glad you asked! The clue is hidden cunningly in the name – I would be assisting with the wardrobe and props for the show.

This job was an interesting choice for me as I have never been ‘at one’ with a needle and thread (I generally use a stapler or sticky tape to fix any hems on my clothes or I pay someone to make alterations for me). But hey, I knew how to thread a needle and I could put things together so I felt sure that I could assist (and I emphasise the word assist here) with all manner of prop and costume requirements. I certainly wasn’t going to miss out on this one-off opportunity to do something new and exciting!

Day 1 work schedule: unload props; ‘build’ change-rooms; set up Dino pit; unpack, check and hang up costumes.

On my first day on the job in Bangkok the crew were greeted at the hotel by one of the promoters in a very plush vehicle. Door to door luxury service for the crew’s first day – no hassle, no fuss. I liked this gig already. Entering the venue via the service lift (which had the most god awful rubbish smell – hello Bangkok) I was astounded to see it was a vast cavernous room; no seating, no stage. “Riiiiight then. How in the hell does this work?!” I thought to myself. I soon learned that a local crew would be building the auditorium from scratch – seating, stage, light rigs, the works. And all in less than two days. Impressive.

Buzzing with excitement I entered what was to be the backstage area where I was greeted with a mass of very large packing crates. “Our first jobs will be to set up the wardrobe areas and the Dino pit” I was advised by the Wardrobe and Props manger. Um, ok then. A Dino pit. Sure, no worries; I can do that, if only I knew what a Dino pit actually was. I guessed I would find out soon enough.

Setting up the wardrobe areas meant sectioning the ludicrously large room with movable room dividers to enable separate dressing rooms. One room for the guys, one room for the girls, and a third room for eight of the costume characters. Oh yes, the costume characters. For in this show there were some very large characters indeed. You see, this show was built around several well-known children’s characters including Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam, and Angelina Ballerina. Rather than explain how big the costumes were I thought a picture would be more helpful – you know, a picture is worth a thousand words and all that jazz – so here you go…

Hanging with the boys

After setting up the dressing areas it was time to set up the Dino pit. There were four extremely large packing crates which we arranged into a diamond shape with plenty of room around the crates to allow for four people to get dressed, along with enough room to enable the crates to be opened fully. We then began opening the crates one by one. And that’s when the full meaning of Dino pit became clear, because inside the crates were – yep you guessed it – dinosaur costumes. But not just any old dinosaur costumes. Barney the friendly dinosaur and his friends Riff, BJ and Baby Bop. (Don’t know who they are? That’s ok, neither did I! For the uninitiated they are the characters from an American children’s TV show who perform fun educational songs and dances – kind of like the Wiggles if the Wiggles were dinosaurs. Don’t know who the Wiggles are? I suggest a Google search then!). These costumes were big. Big and heavy. Big and heavy and with all sorts of separate pieces which would eventually fit together to form full costumes.

The rest of the day was spent sorting out the costumes and props. Apart from the fact I still had no idea what I was doing and was feeling totally out of my depth I enjoyed my first day on the job.

Day 2 work schedule: build props; groom costumes.

On Day 2 we headed back to the venue to continue where we left off the day before – grooming the costumes to ensure they were in pristine condition after being in packing crates (including steaming every costume and scrubbing all of the shoes), and re-building the props (props are taken apart after the end of a run of shows in order to be transported in packing crates to the next show destination).

Somehow the hours flew by and before I knew it it was time to head back to the hotel and the evenings’ festivities.

Day 3 work schedule: set the stage for the first on-stage run-through; costume fittings; ad hoc prop and wardrobe requirements.

Day 3 saw the crew heading back to the venue for more setting up and organising, along with the first run-through on the newly-built stage, and costume fittings for the cast. My big moment #1 had arrived – working out how the costumes were to be put on each performer.

You would think that dressing characters would be a relatively easy task right? Oh how wrong you are! The dressing process is quite a task given that each costume involves many layers (including undergarments and over garments along with the costume itself), comes in parts (aforementioned layers plus head, body, shoes and accessories are all separate), has an internal fan to keep the performers coolish while performing, and must be fitted correctly in order that:

(a) no skin is showing (i.e. nothing that resembles a human in any shape or form can be seen peeking out of the costume);
(b) the performers can see, walk and dance without falling over;
(c) the performers can move the mouths of the costumes easily to simulate talking;
(d) the performers don’t overheat and pass out; and
(e) the costumes are in pristine condition (i.e. no random fluff / thread etc is attached to the outside of the costume).

I was soon to learn that most of the performers had more than one character costume throughout the course of a show and would therefore require at least one change in costume during a performance. I further learnt that when changing costumes, one cannot just leave the costume lying anywhere. No; once off the costume must be hung back up in order to protect it and to help dry it out before its next wear. The dinosaur crates even had their own in-built fans to help with the drying process (oh yes, those costumes get awfully sweaty inside). Still further I was told that the costumes could not be worn for extended periods of time due to the heat factor and the weight of the costumes (the Barney costume alone weighs upwards of 25kgs). So when not on stage (or undertaking a costume check) a performer needs to be helped out of their costume immediately. Hence the need for wardrobe support!

During the initial fitting process the cast kept asking me questions that I was not equipped to answer and I was feeling quite out of my depth. Bless them though; they were so lovely and friendly and luckily had worked with the show enough times to muddle through the initial costume dressing with me. Every single person in the cast was truly a delight to work with.

Soon enough big moment #2 rolled around; a moment that I was hoping would never transpire. Oh yes, I was required to do some sewing – dear god in heaven above; me, sewing! But it was my job and I was determined to do it well, so I picked up the sewing kit, threaded the needle, and set about fixing the costumes like my life depended on it. And you know what? I did a pretty good job. Seems given the right incentive anything is possible!

And then it was time for me to finally see the show in action and work out how my role would fit into the running of the show. At this point I was assigned the characters that I would be responsible for dressing for each show and advised of the props that I would also be responsible for. I had my running sheet that listed everything that needed to be done and I carried it around like it was the most precious jewel in the world.

During the first run-through I realised that I would be running around a lot backstage during the show, and that there were some serious time pressures with regard to the costume changes; but there would also be times during the show when I could stand at the side of the stage and dance and sing along – excellent!

We ended up spending many hours in the theatre that day. At times I felt quite overwhelmed, but most of the time I just loved being a part of it all.

Day 4 work schedule: technical run-through; dress rehearsal x 2 (Thai and English)

Day 4 was all about the rehearsals (the cast had already been in rehearsals, but the crew had yet to rehearse). First up was a technical rehearsal to iron out the running of all things technical in the show. Then came two dress rehearsals – one in Thai, and one in English. Oh yes, there was going to be both English and Thai shows. The Thai shows were going to be tricky for both the crew and the cast as all of the dialogue was to be in Thai and none of the cast or immediate crew spoke Thai. “Ok then,” I can hear you thinking (why yes I have a very powerful psychic ability don’t you know) “so if the performers don’t speak Thai, how does the show work?” Ah, good question. For the Thai shows the performers would lip-sync to a pre-recorded track with Thai speakers (think Britney Spears), and the crew would have to concentrate harder to ensure that they didn’t miss an important cue. Hence the need for extended rehearsal time.

Walking around backstage with all of the costume characters was very surreal. And the conversations…!

“Can someone please pass me Fireman Sam’s head? It’s in the bucket over there.”
“Hello there Bob. Can you just jump up and down a bit so I can make sure your tool belt is secure?”
“Excuse me Barney it’s time to attach your teeth”
“Hey Norman, do you have your Firecracker?”
“Pingu, it’s time to put on your head.”
“We are missing a tail. Has anyone seen Angelina’s tail?”

Unfortunately I am not allowed to divulge any more detailed information about working backstage with the characters; so no stories about the weird and wonderful things I saw, heard or had to do. Nor am I allowed to share any photos of undressed characters. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to take any photos in which a costume was not on a person, or where a person was not fully dressed in a costume. There are many rules and regulations which dictate the whys and wherefores with regard to the costumes (all written and enforced by my big sister with her casts and crews all over the world), and any flouting of these rules can see the distributors lose their license to put on the show. There are a lot of good reasons for this and I do understand why the rules are in place. It’s just such a shame I can’t share the stories with you – there are some hilarious ones. But at least it will save your bum from getting numb reading this post as if I was to share all of the stories you would be reading this post all day!

Days 5 & 6 work schedule: shows and bump-out

The next two days were long and tiring with the show finally going live. There were six shows in two days, and each show was close to two hours long (including interval). Before and after each show, props needed to be set in position, costumes needed to be checked and re-checked (and fixed as required), and performers needed to be dressed and undressed. And there were also ‘meet and greets’ with some very lucky children that needed to be scheduled in. There certainly was a lot to do. But despite the long hours and the work, I loved nearly every minute of it. Watching the show come together was a wonderful experience. There is nothing in the world quite like a live stage performance.

The first day of shows did see a bit of a minor disaster – it had been discovered prior to the first show that the Bob the Builder costume had a large stain on its posterior (i.e. Bob had a noticeable dirty bum). His costume would need to be sent for dry-cleaning overnight. During the show run, clothes are sent for laundering overnight; however it was rare to have to send out one of the full character costumes. To add some spice to the drama, Bob’s costume had a tool belt firmly sewed on and this needed to be unattached before it could be sent off to be laundered. This job fell to me. Taking the belt off was not so hard – scissors and an unpicker and it was good to go. What I was worried about was having to re-attach it prior to the first show the next morning…

Arriving at the theatre early the next morning we were met with a bit of a crisis – the costumes had been returned from laundering but were not dry. Okey dokey, so with less than 70 minutes before show time we had wet costumes, a tool belt that needed re-attaching, and some props to fix. Best get to it then. Whoever thought this job would be glamorous has never sat on a chair with a hair-dryer trying to dry trousers whilst people are running around setting up fans to dry underwear and bodysuits, and socks are drying on lighting rigs!

As the Wardrobe and Props manager was caught up in some other costume drama it fell to me to reattach Bob the Builder’s tool belt. “Just to let you know if the tool belt falls off while Bob is on stage the show licence could be revoked” I was told. “You also need to keep the sewing as neat as possible so that it doesn’t ruin the look of the costume”. Ok, no pressure then. With just 30 minutes until Bob was due to be on stage off I trotted to fix the belt armed with a little sewing kit and with the words “can you fix it? Yes I can!” going around and around in my head.

Operation re-attach Bob’s tool belt started well – I worked out the correct way to position the tool belt on the almost-dry costume and had successfully threaded the needle. I quickly realised that there was a lot of sewing to be done, and with little time left to achieve it I was feeling pressured. But I continued to sew like my life (or at least the license) depended on it. During the sewing I managed to prick my finger which then bleed on the costume – argh! Luckily the stain was removed easily enough and a plaster was applied to stop any more spillages. The incident, however, had slowed down the sewing. With just 10 minutes before Bob was due on stage (which meant he needed to get dressed ASAP) I quickly finished off the sewing and helped him get dressed. Once dressed I then made him jump and run around to ascertain whether my stitching would hold up. It seemed ok, and with no time left he made it onto the stage where, I am pleased to say, the belt did not fall off. Phew!

During my breaks in work throughout the shows I had a lot of fun dancing and singing on the side of the stage (c’mon, who doesn’t feel the urge to dance along to children’s songs every now and then?). I think the cast enjoyed the fact that I was loving the show and dancing like a crazy person – they either ended up joining in backstage or encouraging me subtly from onstage.

After the final show it was time to bump-out (or in layman’s terms, take down the entire stage and pack the props and costumes into packing crates to be sent to their next destination). Sounds easy right? Wrong again! My first job was to take a travel-sized hair dryer and dry the inside of each of the dinosaur costumes. To do this I had to position myself in such as way as to reach the hair dryer inside the costumes which was very awkward – lucky I am flexible is all I can say! And I had to be very careful not to burn the lining of the costumes. Glamorous job? I think not!

An hour of drying later I was then tasked with packing away the other character costumes in their designated packing crates, another tricky task. Thankfully my big sister came in to help me which made all the difference to the speed and precision of the process. Finally all 12 costumes were dry and packed and we were able to leave the venue for the very last time. It was a long and tiring day but the crew still managed to get together back at the hotel to toast a job well done. Challenge week complete!

Some of the characters in the show

Introspection time-out

So what did I learn from all of my firsts this week? Gosh where to start!

I learnt how hard a back stage crew works before, during and after a show. Having only been an amateur onstage performer until this time I really didn’t have any concept of the hard work that crew members put in to make sure a show runs smoothly. Thank you to all of the crew members of every show I have ever done, and to all crew members of any show I have ever seen and am yet to see. You guys are amazing and deserve much more credit for the work that you do.

I learnt that when I am faced with a situation in which I am forced to do something that I have not done before, I am generally able to complete the task with a minimum of fuss and bother. I guess sometimes we all just need a bit of pressure to help us get off our butts and give something a go.

I have learnt that I can sew a tool belt onto a pair of XXXXXXXXL sized overalls. I am sure that skill will come in handy one day.

I learnt how hard it is to wear a costume character suit. I genuinely don’t know how they are able to walk in those things, let alone sing and dance. For those who think that this would be an easy gig – think again. It is difficult to see out of these costumes and they are hot and heavy. I have much respect for the performers who wear these costumes now that I have tried one on for myself and have helped others with theirs.

I have learnt that I seem to have verbal diahorrea when it comes to talking about fun and exciting experiences.

And finally, I have learnt about what my big sister does as an Executive Producer, and how fantastic she is at her job. I had a vague idea of her job before working with her on the show, but now I can see why she is so respected in her field and why she is clearly feared and loved in equal measure by cast and crew alike. Not a lot of people get an opportunity to work with their family members to see what it is that they do for a living, and I feel lucky that I have had this opportunity and can now have an informed conversation with her about her job. Big sister: thank you for providing me with the opportunity to work on this show and trusting in my ability to get the job done.

Until next time

“Life is like a piano. What you get depends on how you play it.” ~ unknown

Week 8(a): One night in Bangkok

Or eight nights to be precise. Oh yes. Travel. And not just any travel. Free travel. And not just free travel. Travel that I was being paid to undertake. This was going to be a fantastic week – bring on the firsts!

When I moved to the UK in 2006 I made it my mission to travel as much as I could in the time that I was there. And travel I did. In my first three years I visited upwards of 23 countries and by the time I moved back to Australia I had visited 35 in total. Working as a contractor I was lucky enough to be able to take as much time off as money and contracts would allow and I made the most of it. Around two to three months a year of those first few years was spent hot-footing it around the UK, Europe, Africa and the US.  I had discovered a passion for travel that quickly turned into an addiction. I was barely back from one trip when I began planning the next. Living in London meant travelling was easy, cheap and fast. Needless to say I was desperately missing the travel opportunities since returning to Australia. And then I got a call from my big sister.

“How would you like to come and work on one of my shows in Bangkok for a week?” she asked (I hasten to point out that the shows in question were professional children’s shows – not the other variety that Bangkok is well-known for!). “Oh my god yes” I cried without a moment’s hesitation. “Take some time to think about it after I tell you what is involved” she said. “Nope, don’t care what is involved, count me in” I replied. I had never been to Thailand so I was excited that this trip would also count as a new experience.

So what was I going to be doing on the show? Well that will be the subject of my next blog post. For brevity I have broken up my Bangkok escapades and my Bangkok working adventures. Otherwise you would be reading the world’s longest blog post!

I was lucky enough to have almost 3 full days of my schedule available for sightseeing and I intended to make the most of it. My first day in Bangkok dawned shiny and hot, and after a session in the gym (the joys of jet lag #1: waking up early means you can fit more into your morning) and a very different breakfast (noodles, broccoli and cupcakes do not make for a mouth-watering feast – thank goodness for ‘western-style’ options), my sister and I hit the pavement to experience the sensory overload that is Bangkok – intense humidity, traffic, and copious assaults on the olfactory glands – I was in seventh heaven!

Navigating our way easily through the train and water transport networks (the joys of being  seasoned travellers) we Reclining Buddhamade our way to our first destination: Wat Pho, a Thai temple famed for its 46m long reclining Buddha and the host of one of the earliest traditional Thai massage schools. At 9am the heat and humidity was already oppressive, but that wasn’t going to stop us from taking a good look around (well my sister wasn’t quite in agreement with me on that point, but she was a good sport about it!). Arriving at the entrance of the reclining Buddha I was requested to put on what would best be described as a lurid green synthetic dressing gown. Despite doing my best to dress appropriately for the temple (trousers over the knee and shirt with mini sleeves as opposed to entirely sleeveless) I still was not covered up enough to enter. Fair enough. I donned the sexy little gown and spent a good 15 minutes wandering around the very impressive statue.

We then meandered around the extensive temple grounds looking at all of the beautiful architecture and numerous sculptures (I had returned the green dressing gown by this stage just in case you were wondering). During our wanderings we stumbled across the massage school. It was air-conditioned and ridiculously cheap ($10 for a 30 minute traditional Thai massage) so in we ventured to be stretched and prodded. I do love a good Thai massage but I think the lady next to me was expecting a more traditional massage – the look on her face after her massage was over was priceless! Thai massage really should come with a warning for those who have never experienced it before; it can be quite disconcerting to have someone sitting on you and stretching your body into a series of poses fit for a contortionist when you are expecting something quite different!

In case you have never experienced Thai massage, it is not the massage oil and kneading kind of massage that one usually thinks of when one thinks of massage. In Thai massage practitioners apply firm pressure with their thumbs, palms, forearms, elbows, feet, knees and shins to rhythmically press and stretch your body. The intent is to release tension, increase vitality and create a wholeness of mind, body and spirit. Sometimes that intent can be befuddled when you find yourself stretched on a mat with a person sitting on you and stretching your legs and arms when you were expecting a more genteel approach!

Ever since my first foray into Thai massage (which weirdly was in Slovenia) I have been a fan. I admit the first time I was wondering what the hell the woman was going to do to me next, and did start to giggle to myself when she climbed on the table and sat on me. But the feeling of euphoria I experienced afterwards was one I wanted to repeat.

After our massages my sister and I decided to swan around the temple grounds a bit longer, and then head off for some lunch. I was so looking forward to my first real Thai meal in Thailand. I love Thai food and couldn’t wait to see how Thai food made in Thailand tasted. We passed many tourists eating at the more touristy cafes (why would you come to Thailand and eat burgers and chips for goodness sake) and opted for a hole in the wall Thai cafe. Nothing to look at, but there were locals there so we were up for it. I played it safe for my first meal and ordered Pad Thai. OMG taste bud explosion! It was divine, and it only cost $3 (Australian). Happy, happy days.

Yum yum Pad Thai

Our next stop was to be MBK – a famous shopping mall standing 8 stories high with more than 2000 shops – heaven on a stick! On the way we passed by a little store and, our curiosity piqued, we ventured in to be met by the cutest and friendliest little Thai man who regaled us with stories of his family and showed us all of his pictures taken with the King of Thailand. He was just divine. He gave us some little treats as a gift, and asked us to send him something from Australia when we returned home, as many others had done before us. He showed us some of the gifts he had already received from all over the world – what a fantastic thing to do. It really was a lovely and unexpected experience; and it is these kinds of encounters that I truly love about travelling.

When we arrived at MBK I almost wet myself with excitement seeing all of tMBK aka shopping heavenhe stores stretching in front and above me. I am a shopaholic. I love to shop. I can shop anywhere, anytime. I am a shopping machine. Wind me up and watch me go. And go I did. I powered around the different levels looking at dodgy DVDs, fake brand-name handbags, electrical equipment, paintings, clothes, manchester, and all manner of souvenir items. Although things were not as cheap as I imagined they would be, they were still awfully cheap. I managed to purchase quite a few items, although my sister was able to talk me out of the 12 or so handbags I wanted to buy (I did have more time in the week to shop, she said, which was a good point, well made). We then headed back to the hotel, a mere 2 train stops away, to dump our goods and meet a new arrival – the lady who would be my wardrobe and props manager for the show later in the week.

We then headed out to Pat Pong – the area notorious for the “downstairs lady part” bars where ladies do things with their downstairs areas that have to be seen to be believed. There are also some fantastic markets in the area which was the actual reason we were going! We avoided all of the “speciality” bars in favour of the markets and another yummy hole in the wall dinner. All in all it was a great introduction to Bangkok and I was looking forward to more exploits during the week.

The next day I had to work for several hours, but at 1130am I was set loose with the wardrobe manager to entertain ourselves for the rest of the day. Off we went to China town to scope out some wardrobey stuff and generally mill around. It was a lot of fun scouring all of the lanes and alleyways of China town, although those who are not used to crowds, big cities and ungodly smells may not have found as much enjoyment as we did!

To get back to the hotel we opted for a Tuk Tuk ride – something I had been dying to try. My god it was a blast. They don’t get their reputation of craziness for no reason. Hang on tight and enjoy the ride is all I can say if you ever try one. I loved it. We met up with the rest of the crew at the hotel and went out for another street dinner which again was a fun and decidedly tasty affair.

Tuk Tuk

 The next few days I spent working on the show, but I did have the nights free to enjoy the nightlife. And enjoy it I certainly did! Having missed out on the “downstairs lady part” bars on the first night, I was looking forward to finding a partner in crime to go with me. I found such a partner in a 6 foot 5 Aussie crew member who had never had the pleasure of the nightlife in Bangkok and was just as keen as I was to head out. For good measure we took along another crew member who had had much experience with Bangkok nightlife (he is also one of the funniest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I swear my stomach muscles hurt the next day from all of the laughs he gave us on our tour). After yet another exquisite local dinner we settled in for a few games of pool and $2 beers. Once my partner in crime and I had been defeated 5 times in a row we decided it was time to venture forth on our Bangkok nightlife mission. First stop – ladyboy street. Wowsers those boys were pretty! And boy did they have a lot of takers heading into the rows and rows of bars. It was fun to banter with the very fabulous ladyboys, but we were ready for the main attraction of the evening, so heading out of ladyboy street we flagged a cab to take us to Pat Pong. Funniest. Cab-ride. Ever. Our “tour guide” kept us in stitches for the entire journey.

Entering the vicinity of the “speciality” bars we were assaulted with menu after menu of what was on offer. Oh yeah, there are menus. The most eye opening, eye watering menus imaginable. Want to see a lady open a bottle with her downstairs area – you can. What about blow a horn? Play ping pong? Write your name? Blow out a candle? Blow up a balloon? Or one of the other 25 things on the list? Who knew there was so much one can do with their nether regions.

We were lured into a bar with the “fantastic deal” of a free show for the price of one beer each (costing about $5 per person). Bargain. It was a dingy little dive inside, and I was quite appalled by what I saw. Sad looking women who clearly wanted to be anywhere but where they were. I was saddened by the fact I was perpetuating their misery, and my partner in crime was also far from impressed, so we started to leave via the cashier. That is when things took a nose dive. Rather than the “fantastic deal” we were quoted prior to entering, our bill was now almost 10 times over the quoted price. When we refused to pay it, the scary manager lady stepped in to tell us that the sales guy did not quote us the right price, and that on top of the drinks we had to pay for the “show” we had seen. We had been royally scammed. Enter our “tour guide” who had seen all of this before. He started right in on the manager with a massive tirade, with the manager giving it right back. We were soon joined by another heavy from the bar. Uh oh. There were threats made to call the police on us if we did not pay the full bill, but despite the drama we just could not stop laughing at our “tour guide”. He was pure gold to watch in action. After around 10 minutes of fighting we managed to walk out of the bar having paid just the original quoted price, and with no police in sight. Phew.  

Not deterred, we decided to go to a more “reputable” bar. The drinks at this bar were the same price as the previous bar, and there was a menu from which you could choose and pay additional money to see a “show”. We chose ping pong, with much thanks to Priscilla Queen of the Dessert for the inspiration. But even better than the movie, you could take a bat and actually hit the ball back, almost like a normal game of ping pong albeit it minus the net and with an opponent who used a more unique way of serving the ball.

The women in this bar seemed a lot livelier and I did not feel like I was exploiting them as I had felt in the other bar. I do realise thatPing pong bar was indeed what I was doing, and being a staunch feminist I did have some twinges of guilt, but overall the atmosphere inside was one of fun and frivolity rather than sadness and despair. I chatted to a few of the ladies and also scored myself a massage by two women who were, well, not entirely dressed. That was a pure accident (I was trying to save my partner in crime from being utterly devoured by all of the women), but they were good masseuses, I was fully clothed, I was sitting at my table in the bar with my companions, and it was very much in keeping with the theme of the evening (plus I remunerated them for their services). We saw a few other acts before we called it a night and hailed a Tuk Tuk to take us back to the hotel. Another hilarious ride later we arrived at the hotel none-the-worse for wear despite the hairy ride, our escapades, and the early hour of the morning. A fantastic night all in all, and surprisingly cheap. Note to self: getting home at 3am when you have an 830am work start time is probably not ideal; but hey, you only live once right?!

For the next few days I was utterly consumed by work, from 9am to 8pm’ish. The crew still managed to have some jolly dinners and swims in the stunning pool area every night though.

My last day in Bangkok was entirely free – our flight wasn’t until midnight and we had finished our shows, so my bar-hopping partner in crime, the stage manager from the show, and I decided to take in some sights. First stop, Wat Phra Kaew, another of Bangkok’s exquisite temples. We arrived to find masses of people queueing to get inside the temple. After a quick discussion we decided that we indeed did not want to wait hours in the line to go inside, and instead wandered around the outskirts, gazing in wonder at the beautiful architecture. We then meandered along the streets until we reached the river were we boarded a boat for some lovely views from the water. The contrasts on the river front were severe – on one side: pure poverty was clearly visible. On the other side, extreme wealth was on show. It was an interesting insight into the world of Bangkok.

Wat Phra Kaew

I then escorted our little group to MBK for some more shopping. We shopped and lunched together before breaking off to do our own thing. I bought more loot on this adventure. I then decided to walk back to the hotel via two massive shopping centres where I wandered shops that I hadn’t seen since leaving the UK (Boots, H&M, Zara, Jimmy Choo, Prada and many more) – it was pure heaven. I managed to escape with only a few choice purchases of clothing and the most divine heels. All in all I shopped for 7 straight hours and loved it.

Then sadly it was time to return to the land of Oz. I loved every single second of my time in Bangkok. I met great people, had some fantastic experiences, bought a lot of fabulous things…stick a fork in me, I was done!      

Introspection time out

So what did I learn from my myriad of firsts this week?

I learnt how much joy I get from travelling, and how much it soothes my soul. I returned from my trip renewed and ready to take on the world once again. My mum even remarked when I disembarked the plane that I looked just like my old self again.

I learnt that some women have some very interesting talents.

I learnt that Thai people are some of the most beautiful, helpful and gentle people one could ever hope to meet. The disaster in Pat Pong and cab drivers aside, the people of Bangkok were only too happy to lend a helping hand, point us in the right direction, or just have a laugh with us. It is such a beautiful culture and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to experience it first-hand.

I learnt that I am definitely a traveller not a tourist. What is the difference? I think this quote just about sums it up: “The traveler sees what he sees; the tourist sees what he has come to see.” –G.K. Chesterton

I learnt that when I am truly passionate about something I write extraordinarily long blog posts.

And thus endeth another week. Until next time… 

To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.” – Hans Christian Andersen

Some of my favourite signs that I came across during my explorations: 

P1040138                                                  P1040130

Bangkok signage

            P1040537   Bangkok signage  

What not to wearP1040332

Week 7: A TV show application

Half way through week 7 I heard that one of my favourite TV shows was taking applications for contestants. I had never applied for a TV show and I was yet to complete a challenge that week so I thought – why not? Little did I realise how long the application would take…

I have never had a desire to be a contestant on a TV show. This might surprise some given my theatrical background. But really, I never watch game shows like ‘Deal or No Deal’ and the idea of being on a reality TV show like ‘Big Brother’ makes me run for the hills. That being said, I do love ‘The Apprentice’ (UK edition, not the terrible American one), and I used to be an avid viewer of ‘The Mole’ (the Australian version). TV shows involving real people undertaking challenges – that I like. And lo and behold the application on offer was for none other than ‘The Mole’. It hadn’t been shown on TV since I left Australia and now it was returning just like I had returned. Coincidence? Fate? 

Logging on to the application website three things struck me immediately: (a) I had left my run quite late – applications were due to close in 3 days; (b) the questions being asked were excruciatingly probing; and (c) the application was long. Very, very, very, very, very, very long. Nevertheless I had set myself a challenge and I wanted to stick to it, so I launched in. Coming up for breath two hours later I realised it was not going to be a short process. I was less than a quarter of the way through the written application and I also had to make a video. Did I really want to do this? I genuinely had no desire to be on the show itself so why was I putting myself through the process? ‘Because I am stubborn and determined once I set my mind on something’, came my inner voice. Man sometimes that inner voice can be a pain in the arse.

As I got deeper into the application, the questions became more personal and probing.

  •          “What are your flaws?”
  •          “Have you ever had to lie to keep a secret or promise? Describe the circumstances. How did you feel?”
  •          “What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?”

Wow, I felt like I should have been lying on a couch in a therapists’ office. 

  •        “What are / were your parents’ occupations and how has this influenced your life?”

Um, say what now? This application was sucking the marrow out of me!

Other difficult questions followed:

  •        “What do you think is the biggest problem society faces?”
  •        “What do you think of the immigration policy in Australia?”
  •         “What would you change about the world if you were in charge?”

(Helloooo Miss World).

Writing the answers to these and the numerous other questions was taking up more time than anticipated, and I had a lot of other important things to do (like pack for my imminent trip to Bangkok – a teaser for next weeks’ blog right there!). Did I really want to continue to spend my time on this? Was I willing to give up on the challenge for the week? ‘My god yes, give up, you don’t even want to be on the show. You are just doing this because you set yourself a challenge, not because you want to be on the show. Just go to bed, seriously, stop being a martyr’ my inner voice screamed having finally seen reason. So I did. I packed up the computer and I went to bed. No more application for me. I would just chalk it up as an experience to learn from, even if I didn’t complete the challenge.

Waking up the next morning I had a feeling akin to guilt. But why should I feel guilty? I hadn’t cheated anyone. No one would have to know that I didn’t complete my challenge for the week, and even if they did, they wouldn’t care. ‘Ah’, screamed my inner voice. ‘But you would know, you would care, and you are cheating yourself’. Man I need to shut that b!@#$ up! So back to the computer I went and continued to answer the probing and difficult questions. 25 pages of a word document later I felt that the application was as good as it was going to get. I admit I didn’t fuss over it. I didn’t even obsessively re-read over it four times or more like I would normally do for anything that I write. It was too long and I still had a video to shot. Oh yes, a video.

What could I say in three minutes or less that would showcase my talents, my outgoing personality, and my confidence in front of a camera? I have seen some of the tapes that people put together for these things – over the top much? That just isn’t me. Besides, I had only about four hours left to film it, upload it and send the application. Enter my niece from stage left. What better way to try and convince the viewers that I should be in the show then to have a cute 10-year-old pulling a puppy dog face and asking to see her Aunty on TV. Sure fire winner! After asking permission from a responsible adult as to whether it would be ok for her to be on the demo tape, I set about writing a very rough dialogue. I wanted it to be spontaneous but with a guide as to how the scene would play out. An introduction to me, an introduction to my niece, a little dance number, and cut. Fabulous. In and out in less than two minutes.

Several practices in pj’s (yep, I was still rocking the pj look at 3pm) and I was satisfied that we could pull it off without looking ridiculous.

But what to wear? Nothing too outlandish (I didn’t want to be the loud and zany person), nothing too revealing (I didn’t want to take that mantel), and nothing too casual (I didn’t want to say that I didn’t care how I looked). I settled on jeans and an orange leopard print top; minimal make-up. Sexy in an understated way (if I do say so myself!).

Cue take 1. It lasted all of 30 seconds before I realised I had no idea what I was saying.  Take 2 was much better but on the play back I realised that the background just did not work. A change of scenery was definitely required. In the end I settled on the front garden, and the camera was placed on a rubbish bin to shoot the video – class all the way, no expense spared! After an initial fumble of words on take 3, take 4 went off smoothly and was quite spontaneous and fun – we had a winner! Now to upload and send the application on its way.

The uploading process proved to be a lot trickier and more frustrating than I ever could have imagined. Now I am pretty au fait when it comes to computers (and when all else fails there is always Google to lend a helping hand), but I could not for the life of me reduce the file to the file size that was allowable for the application. I attempted all means of trying to make it smaller, but I just wasn’t getting any love back. As time ticked on I grew more and more frustrated and began wishing that my more tech savvy friends were close by like they used to be. But it was just me and the computer battling it out. I didn’t want to reshoot the video – it was now dark, my niece was tired, and besides, we had a good thing going in the final shoot. I just needed to shrink the damn thing to a more manageable size.

After a good two hours of struggle, yelling and cursing, I finally managed to get it to the allowable size to upload. Unfortunately the quality of the video suffered somewhat, but by that stage I was well and truly over it and just wanted to get rid of it once and for all! Hitting send I felt an intense feeling of relief. Application done! Project ‘packing for Bangkok’ could commence.

Introspection time-out

So what did I learn from my challenge this week? Well thanks to the probing questions, I learnt a hell of a lot about myself. I felt like I had delved into the depths of my psyche. Ideas and opinions rushed out of my head to my fingertips and before I knew it I had pages of material that I felt strongly about. I also got a feel for how my past had shaped my present thanks to the questions on upbringing, home towns and parents’ occupations, and how these had affected my thoughts and feelings on life. It really was a form of therapy in many ways. Of course, I did not over-share in the application. I was not going to reveal my full life history to complete strangers. God knows where that information could end up. But it did provide a lot of food for thought, and in some ways I was grateful for the chance to delve into such things. I am sure that when I read back over it in years to come it will be an interesting snapshot of my life at that moment. So despite the pain of the length of the application I am glad that I completed it as I did learn more about myself and that can never be a bad thing.

Completing the application also showed me I still have a long way to go before I accept Australia the way I did before I moved to the UK. I know I will never again feel the same as I did before I moved away, but I do hope one day to rekindle the love of my country, and to relinquish my soul’s desire for the UK. I know that those who haven’t lived abroad will never understand how you can feel like a foreigner in your own country, but I also know that I am not alone in this. I look forward to the day when I can truly call Australia my home again and not feel sad or frustrated about it.

I learnt that I can’t accept giving up on something that I have set out to complete, even when the going gets tough and even when I don’t covet the specific prize for successful completion (i.e. a TV show appearance). 

I learnt that it is not always that outcome of a project that is the most important part of the project. It is what you learn along the way that can be more beneficial than the eventual outcome. Yes, completing a project brings a certain feeling of satisfaction, and sometimes the outcome of a project is useful (e.g. food, furniture, essay), but the insight that you get along the way can far outweigh the eventual outcome.

I learnt that a rubbish bin can make a pretty good camera stand. 

I learnt useful technical skills that will no doubt come in handy again one day, along with gaining knowledge of many different types of computer programs one can use to make a run off the mill video that much more exciting.

I learnt that something that starts out looking easy may actually end up being a lot harder than you could ever have imagined, and that something that starts out looking hard could, in fact, end up being easy.

And finally I learnt that it is actually easier to start / continue on with a project then it is to sit around thinking about it and feeling uncomfortable for not doing it. You just have to dive in and give it your best shot, and don’t give up when the going gets tough. There are rewards to completing a project that far outweigh the difficulties you may experience along the way. So stop putting things off – make the effort to complete a shelved project today. I promise you will feel better for having done it.

As for me, next stop, Bangkok!

I leave you with a final thought for the day

 “Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors” – African proverb

The Mole - coming in 2013

Week 6: An undomestic goddess

On week 6 I had planned to try a new sport. The open day for beginners for the said new sport was to be held on the last day of the week in which I could do my weekly challenge. I never thought about timing. Rookie mistake! I woke up at 530am to a deluge of rain. Damn. No new sport for me. And double damn, I now needed to come up with a challenge that I could complete that day.

Drinking my morning coffee and searching for inspiration, I came across a discarded ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ magazine. It wasn’t mine I hazard to point out. I have been known to buy a celebrity magazine or two, but anything to do with home, gardens or craft…no thank you. Not that there is anything wrong with such magazines. It’s just that I am, as some may say, quite the undomestic goddess. Ok, well they might leave out the goddess part but you get the drift.  

I guessed I would be able to find many a new thing in the magazine with which to challenge myself. After ruling out all things gardening (too hot, not my garden), and all things involving building furniture (no tools, no need for new furniture, not enough time), I decided upon a cooking challenge.  A two-course meal to be exact – chorizo and pumpkin risotto followed by watermelon ice-cream; things I had never attempted to cook / make in my life. Some might argue that this sounds like an easy challenge. I refer all nay-sayers back to my previous comment on undomesticity. My dinner staples consist of cereal, toast, salad and chicken – things that ensure I am in and out of the kitchen in 10 minutes or less. I just don’t enjoy cooking. I enjoy eating immensely, but cooking has never been for me. Not my bag. No sir. No thank you. So this really was going to be a challenge. And just to make it a tad more challenging I decided to invite the family over for the meal, so it had to be edible. And they were going to score me in the tradition of “Come Dine with Me”; no pressure then.

After a quick grocery shop I headed home to start on the ice-cream as the preparation time stated in the recipe was 3 and half hours. 3 and a half hours – help me Rhonda! At this point in the story I should point out that I didn’t actually make the ice-cream. The recipe noted I could use shop-bought vanilla ice-cream. The key wasn’t to make the ice-cream itself; it was to create ice-cream to look like a slice of watermelon. So it was more ice-cream sculpture; ice-cream art if you will.

First step was to create the outside green layer of the watermelon by adding colour and flavour, shaping it in a bowl, then placing another bowl inside to keep the shape and putting it back in the freezer to set. That was pretty easy. Maybe this was going to be a walk in the park after all. After an hour I got out the newly set ice-cream and stumbled across problem number one. How to get the inside bowl out as it had frozen to the ice-cream. The recipe said try some hot water in the inside bowl and then gently remove. Disaster. The ice-cream started caving in as soon as I removed the inside bowl. Instead of a shell of a watermelon I had a sea of green goo. Back to step one – re-freezing – and another hour wait. My second attempt went much better so I could move onto step two – adding a thin layer of vanilla ice-cream over the top of the green without mixing the two, then placing the bowl back inside to set followed by another hour wait. I then had to do the same for the red layer. I get bored just retelling the story – why do people find this fun and relaxing?!  

By this time it was getting close to dinner o’clock, so I thought I better set the risotto in motion. I poured myself a wine and cranked up the iPod, got out the ingredients and started slicing and dicing. For the onions I decided to try to channel Jamie Oliver and his fancy pants dicing technique. This was working quite well and I was feeling pretty proud of my finely diced onions and then it happened – I sliced my finger. “Argggghhhhhh” went my cry. “What happened?” came the response. “Finger, blood,  not good” I believe was my reply. And it wasn’t good. You see, I don’t deal well with blood. Or cuts. I get quite woozy. Luckily for me Florence Nightingale was nearby in the shape of my 10-year-old niece. “I’ll fix it Aunty Bec” she said as I started to turn a ghostly white. “Come with me”. Bless her little socks. I sat on the bathroom floor while she tended to my wound. The damage was not too substantial – no stitches required. A rinse and a few plasters and I was good to go.

Finger tended to I got back to work on the risotto, albeit now with a throbbing finger (I am such a hero). The rest of the story would make for quite a boring read (as boring as it was to stand in the kitchen stirring the risotto) so to make a long story short, I managed to finish the risotto with a minimum of fuss. Challenge complete.

Final scores for the evening:

My very first risotto

My very first risotto

– 7 out of 10 for the risotto

Ice-cream art

Ice-cream art

– 9 out of 10 for the ice-cream sculpture

– 7 out of 10 for ambience

(I think the finger cutting drama may have lowered my score somewhat for ambience!)

 

Weekly learnings

  So what did I learn this week?

  • I learnt it is always helpful to have a back-up plan
  • I learnt the importance of learning to walk before you run (aka don’t try and be smart when using sharp objects)
  • I learnt that all set-backs can be overcome with determination and a little patience
  • I learnt that cooking risotto isn’t actually as hard as it first seems (but you won’t find me in the kitchen cooking it again any time soon)
  • I confirmed that, despite my success, I still find cooking boring, and no amount of wine while cooking seems to help

Most importantly of all, this week I learnt that you can always find new things to do; you just have to look. Big or small, difficult or easy, expensive or free, wherever you may find yourself in the world, there are always new things to see and do (even in small towns – who knew?!). You just have to be willing, open your eyes, and look.  

Until next time

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” –  Theodore Roosevelt

Week 5: Mumford and monsters and wigs, oh my

This week saw me heading to Cairns to visit one of my favourite people for an extra long weekend. Yay! I wasn’t sure how I was going to fulfil my commitment to doing a new thing this week, but I knew that something would come along.  And so it did. First cab off the rank – a Mumford and Sons gig at the Kuranda Amphitheatre. Whoop – I love Mumford and Sons and had never seen them live in concert. Nor had I been to the Kuranda Amphitheatre. I could claim two new things in one outing – bargain!

One slight hurdle; I didn’t have a ticket and the concert was sold out. Not one to be deterred, a quick search of the Gumtree website showed a single ticket for sale (and at face value no less). Yes! I called the number and made contact with a rather harassed-sounding man (I learned later that he had just missed his flight to Cairns and was trying to source another flight – oops). He informed me that he had had a number of offers for the ticket via text, but I was the first to actually call. Based on that fact he declared that I would henceforth be the rightful owner of the ticket. We arranged to meet (once he finally made it to Cairns) and he kept his end of the bargain. I now had my very own Mumford and Sons ticket – woo hoo.

I was close to tears when I heard the lovely English accents of the Mumford men. I could almost imagine myself back in the UK attending one of the fantastic English summer music festivals that take place every year; something that I greatly missed since returning to Australia.  But there were no tears when it came to the venue – set in rainforest gardens with grass terraces which can hold an audience of up to 3,500, the Kuranda Amphitheatre  is a stunning, tranquil and intimate place to attend a concert (well that sounds a bit like an ad right there doesn’t it?! Maybe I should look for jobs writing advertising copy?!). It was wonderful to have my UK summer festival partner in crime with me once again to dance and sing the evening away with a fantastic band and in such a stunning venue. The only blight on the night was the fact it was the first time I had attended a concert where I hadn’t called my dad so he could play a little part in the evening. It had always been a ritual, and this was a painful first that I wish with all my heart wasn’t a first that I had to experience.Mumford and Sons

My five-night stay in Cairns ended up bringing two more firsts: monster cupcake making and wig-wearing (not at the same time). Now when I say monster cupcake making, I don’t mean ridiculously large cupcakes. I mean cupcakes with monster faces on them. I should probably note that the cupcakes were for a Halloween party. I don’t just go around making monster cupcakes for fun. In fact, as those who know me will attest, I don’t go around cooking or baking full stop. I am not, as some might say, “domestic”. So when my friend asked if I could help her out by making some cupcakes for her upcoming Halloween party, I laughed out loud. “Um, you have met me right?” I recall saying. “You know that kitchens and I don’t really mix, unless the kitchen activity involves pouring wine or socialising at parties”.  But it seems she was serious, and she provided me with a packet mix and the fanciest mixer I have ever seen to prove her point; and then promptly walked out of the door and left me to it. Shit (sorry, hope you aren’t offended by swearing, but I really couldn’t think of another word that summed up how I felt right at that moment. Oh my deary me really didn’t cut the mustard).

Ok, packet mix, no one can go wrong with packet mix right? Being home alone, I cranked up the iPod and danced and sang my way around the kitchen whilst gathering and pouring ingredients into the fancy bowl, ready for the fancy mixer. So far, so good. I then turned on the fancy mixer –my goodness that was a treat. It was indeed a very fancy mixer and I was oddly fascinated by watching it work its magic. I felt like Nigella Lawson, all buxom and baking. I took it upon myself to pretend that I was indeed Nigella, mincing around the kitchen, explaining what I was doing, and pouting at the ‘camera’. When the mixing was done I even tasted the batter, ensuring as I did that I copied Nigella’s ‘sexy finger in the mouth’ move. TV can teach you things! And yes, I was still home alone at the time!

The cupcakes turned out quite well (i.e. they were edible) and I thought my job was now done. No, no, silly me, that was the easy Monster cupcakespart! My lovely friend then advised me that we were to ice the cupcakes, and make monster faces on top of them using marshmallows and chocolate dots. Dear god, would the torture end? I armed myself with the ingredients and plonked myself in front of the TV with a glass of wine and settled in for what would end up being about one and a half hours of monster cupcake decorating. Man I am such a good friend! In the end, the monsters turned out looking more like little Pac-Men, but hey, they were cute and tasty and they were all scoffed at the party, so I deemed the adventure a success!

Speaking of the party, given that it was in aid of celebrating All Hallow’s Eve, the request was made that we all dress up accordingly. Argh, dress-ups – what would I wear? All I had in my arsenal was a red dress and a black cape. Oh and a devil wig I had picked up at the last minute. Ok, so with a bit of dramatic make-up, some fishnets, heels and pitchfork I could make it work. And work it I did! Best of all, I had never worn a super long hair wig before so I could claim it as a first.

Rumination time

So what did I learn from my firsts this week? 

I learnt that sometimes you can just be in the right place at the right time (aka be in Cairns at the same time as Mumford and Sons are playing a gig nearby). There is no rhyme or reason to such things, and when presented with such opportunities, one should make the most of them.

I also learnt the power of a phone call versus a text message. In this day and age we often send texts as our main means of communication. We justify this by saying that it is easier, less time-consuming, and less emotionally stressful than indulging in an actual conversation, even if that conversation is with a loved one (as opposed to someone we do not know well). We have, perhaps, forgotten the pleasure of receiving a call, of talking to someone, of being able to understand the emotion of the conversation without having to second-guess or make (often wrong) assumptions regarding the emotion being portrayed via text (hands up who hasn’t misinterpreted the intent of a text message and gotten themselves into a spot of bother / debate / argument  / bit of a tizzy as a result – I am guessing there are not many hands waving in the air right now).

When you think about it, in some cases it is actually quicker to make a call to sort out things – like making arrangements to meet someone – than it is to text back and forth ironing out the details.

In this case, my phone call elicited a favourable response and I got exactly what it was that I wanted, despite others having made similar offers via text. Why? Maybe it was the personal angle. I cared so much about something that I made the effort to call someone who I didn’t know in the hope that I would be successful in obtaining that something which I didn’t have but that I wanted. I made an effort; I stepped out of my comfort zone and I was rewarded. (I was also very friendly and positive which of course probably made a difference as well – not sure the same response would have been received should a more sullen person have called…).

I also believed in my heart that I would be able to purchase a ticket for the concert.  I didn’t know how, but I felt that a ticket would be forthcoming. A lot of people believe in the power of positive thinking, and that truly believing you have something you don’t currently have will bring about you having that something. More and more I have seen this work in practice. Coincidence or something more? Why not try it and decide for yourself?

Other lessons I have learnt this week:

  • When pushed, I can actually do a bit of cooking with moderate success (as long as the cooking is easy and comes with a complete set of instructions). I am sure the same could be said for any number of tasks and activities. We all just need a good push now and then (and good friends who believe that we can do it if only we try).
  • I am a good friend, willing to do things outside of my comfort zone in order to help a friend. That is the marker of a good friend. If your friend’s aren’t willing to do that for you, then maybe it is time to rethink the friendship.
  • Music is good for the soul. It can soothe wounds and elevate your mood. Find your happy music space and indulge whenever you feel the need (I also find a good 30 second dance break every now and then is very helpful in kicking bad moods – go on, put some boppy music on and dance like there is no one watching for a full 30 seconds and feel the difference in your mood).
  • Attending gigs in the great outdoors is one of life’s pure pleasures. I recommend everyone try to do this as often as possible in their lifetime.
  • Wigs are itchy.

Until next time, remember

Opportunities do not wait” – Greek proverbJust because it was so cute

Week 4: Happy birthday to me

Happy birthday to me. I’m 103.

Into week 4 of the challenge and the week of my birthday. While once birthday’s were something longed for (becoming a teenager, being old enough to get a driver’s licence, reaching the legal drinking age, and having a 21st) I have now reached the point where I would like to stop the figures from rising. This week I really did start feeling like I was ageing when I realised I was beginning sentences with phrases like “when I was younger” and “I remember when”; not to mention proving the old wives tale ‘hangovers last longer the older you get’ is not actually a tale. Oh dear.

This week I took a bit of liberty with the “trying a brand new thing” deal. I extended the meaning of “new thing” to “new thing on my birthday”. It’s my birthday and I’ll extend if I want too.

This year marked my first ever birthday as an adult in the town of my birth (and current town of residence), and was also the first year since 2004 that I celebrated my birthday on Australian soil; two issues I was trying to come to grips with.

I have always tried to celebrate my birthday in style, and I was determined that this year would be no exception. But how was this to be achieved in a small town with limited options for eating and drinking? Never one to be deterred I first decided to send invites to some fabulous ladies I had the pleasure of getting to know / reconnect with during the last few months. I was happy to find that the list was not as short as I feared it would be given that I had only just started devoting time to developing a social circle in the few months since my dad “went fishing”.

But where would we go? I wanted food and wine but I wasn’t satisfied with dining at the local Sizzler – that may have been alright when I was 13, but not for my adult self. Talking to people in the know I discovered a lovely restaurant overlooking the river which came complete with a modern menu and linen napkins. Book it Danno!

Dinner with the posse was a lively affair, and I even got treated to a full 5 minute firework display. Ok, so the fireworks were not specifically for me, but given that the display was directly across the river from our dinner table, it occurred right when dessert was served, and it was my birthday dinner, I was pretty chuffed.  Bar hopping followed after dinner, and I am reliably advised by my sister that I stumbled through the front door at around 330am. Not a bad effort then.

The following day was a day that I care not to remember in detail – oh the pain, the pain! As I told my 10-year-old niece, it must have been something I ate. My sister, however, had other ideas and used me as a demonstration of what not to do. Moving on…

I woke up on my birthday still suffering somewhat from the effects of the celebrations (two-day hangover – I AM old). However, that was not going to stop me from partaking in my first ever birthday boot camp. Yep 530am boot camp on my birthday certainly was a first. In fact, I think just being up and about at 530am on my birthday was a first, let alone sweating it out swinging tyres and such over my head (note to self: it is not a good idea to forget to wear deodorant when one is undertaking a strenuous work out involving lifting one’s arms repeatedly in the air. Needless to say I did ask the instructor for more ‘arms down’ exercises in order to spare the rest of the boot campers. No joy I am afraid to report.)

Other birthday firsts included taking my over 50’s walking group on our regular walk (something I never thought I would be doing in my life, let alone on my birthday and wearing a birthday hat in the shape of a cake complete with foam candles), and participating in a pole dancing fitness class (whilst I have done pole classes in the past, it was a first to be swinging around a pole on my birthday).

One very important first this birthday was the fact that I got to spend my birthday with my niece. Never before in the 10 years of her life had we been in the same place on my birthday. And what a joy she was – decorating the house with balloons, making me a card, singing happy birthday repeatedly, and pulling out the crazy dancing moves during our frenzied birthday dance-athon. Happy birthday to me!

Sadly this year also marked my first birthday without my dad. It was intensely sad not to hear his voice wishing me a happy birthday, but I knew that he was with me in spirit and I took comfort knowing that somewhere in the night sky was the star that I officially had named after him as a Father’s Day gift several years ago.

Introspection time

So what did I learn this birthday week?

I learnt that two-day hangovers really do exist. This is not a lesson I hope to repeat.

I learnt that if you don’t wear deodorant and you sweat profusely you shouldn’t drive your car with the windows up and the air conditioning on.

I learnt that it doesn’t matter where you are (in life or location); you can choose to make yourself miserable, or you can choose to do all that you can to make your situation as happy as possible. Likewise, you can lie down and let life wash over you and blame the winds of fate for your state of being, or you can take action to create as much joy as you can with the situation in which you find yourself.

I learnt that I am able to make wonderful friends no matter what location I find myself in. Yes I am an extrovert which certainly helps, but anyone can do it. It may take a little time, a little effort, and you have to move outside your comfort zone, but the benefits are worth it. Yes you may meet some duds, but hey, one person’s dud is another person’s treasure. And I strongly believe that meeting new people enriches your life. There are so many people with so many life experiences in the world and so many things that you can learn from and broaden your outlook on life.

I learnt that there are many benefits to celebrating your birthday with family; there is something truly special about being surrounded by the love that is family.

I re-learnt that laughter really is the best medicine, and that there is such freedom in dancing like no-one is watching. Try it today. Go on, I challenge you.

And so endeth another birthday and another challenge week. I leave you with a final  thought of the day:

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? ~ Satchel Paige