aqua vitae


Dipping into the local heated pool, I keep half-expecting actor Brian Dennehy to stride out through the steam.

It looks for all the world like a scene straight from the movie Cocoon – the only thing missing is over-sized Easter eggs in the deep end.

There are all these old ladies chattering and laughing like they’ve just been invited to step aboard spacecraft and join an alien culture where they will never be ill, never age and never die.

Joining them in aquarobics for the first time, I remember thinking smugly, how hard can this be?

That particular week I would have been the youngest member of the class by a decade; the oldest – albeit excluded from some exercises – being 83.

Well, between sailor jigs, star jumps, flick kicks, rocking horses, cross country, twists, and running the length of the pool and bicycling back, I nearly died.

Having done no real exercise this century every muscle was still protesting three days later.

Really there was no choice: to regain any sort of self respect I had to go back.

The next time there were a couple of women closer to my age and ability.

We stood at the back of the class trying to copy the fluid grace of our older peers as the instructor put us through our paces.

Things were going OK until she commanded us to place knotted pool noodles around our ankles, which caused those of us without any core strength to invert helplessly with our feet at our ears.

Who’d have thought it? The pool noodle – an item I’d previously considered utterly Zen and about the most fun anyone could have with a tube of extruded polyethylene without sniffing it – an instrument of torture!

A septuagenarian I now know to be named Lexie saved me.

It gets easier after a while,” she whispered, kindly untangling me.

I’ve never before spent any amount of time with a large group of women, especially not naked ones.

In the communal change-rooms after those first few classes I wasn’t quite sure where to look and, like some ridiculous schoolgirl, tried to wriggle out of wet swimmers behind my towel.

I envied them the ease and confidence they felt about their own bodies: cellulite-pocked, scarred, saggy baggy bits and all.

Most of these women are grandmothers who wouldn’t attract a second glance walking along the street.

They are well past the age where women are said to become invisible, but here they are: vital, fit, assured, very, very funny and beautiful.

Sometimes sitting in the spa after class I let their conversation wash over me and imagine myself in a novel like the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood or The Persian Pickle Club.

Only the secret of the Serendipity Swimming Society is not dark and onerous.

It dawned on me midway through a particularly fiendish routine involving rubber dumbbells and dragging exercise partners playing dead weight down the length of the pool.

I looked up to see an elderly man peering in from the gym.

It wasn’t Brian Dennehy, but 80-year-old Jenny’s husband who drew a love heart in the steam on the walkway glass and pointed to his wife.

We may live in a society where youth is the currency, but shouldn’t forget that in the natural cycle the butterfly busts out last.


oh poo!


It sounds mad, but you know those bootcamp exercises where people run at a side-step through tyres ?

Lately I’ve been waking mornings thinking; ‘I could do that’ … really fast.

Six months after turning 50 I really never expected to feel this vital … this happy.

There are many reasons I feel so invigorated.

Chiefly my husband is well, my mother – whose ever-diminishing quality of life was weighing on my soul like industrial tablecloth weights – is at peace, I’m feeling stimulated by my work and am enjoying reconnecting with old friends.

Also I’m exercising regularly, plus eating and generally sleeping better than I have in years.

Indeed, life at 50 would almost be perfect if it were not for unsettling demands to send poo through the post.

I must have been in the bathroom when they rolled out the National Bowel Screening Program because the delivery of the kit came as a great surprise.

Hmm, I wonder what this is, I said shaking the curiously light-for-size package handed to me when I went to clear the post box.

I’m guessing you had a significant birthday recently,” the lass behind the post office counter smiled half-apologetically. “It’s the government’s present.”

Well, thanks, but I would have preferred a nice card.

There are two extremes of opinion about medicals.

At one end of the scale you have people who bail up innocent GPs at cocktail parties and demand inspection of their latest paper cut.

Then there are those like me to whom you only need say Dr and I’m gone before hearing who.

My anxiety about medicos is so acute that I’ve actually been diagnosed with “white coat syndrome” and they could probably do with nets to catch me.

This followed being driven to a neighbourhood surgery for a painful middle ear infection.

As happens on the very rare occasions I go to the doctor, my blood pressure was off the chart.

Thankfully this doctor – instead of immediately suggesting I may need to embark on a medication regime for life – actually sent me home with a blood pressure kit rather than out on a fishing exercise with a sheaf of unnecessary pathology requests.

And my blood pressure – under consistent morning and evening monitoring over a month by my husband – proved to be entirely normal.

The root of my phobia is old and complex.

I fully understand the psychology, but can’t shake the fear that if you ferret around enough you’ll find something wrong with any human body which invariably exposes another problem until pretty soon your entire entrails are unravelled in a steaming pile in front of you.

Which brings me back to the bowel cancer screening.

I tossed the kit in the boot of the car where it remains with two broken umbrellas, a dog coat and an ancient Melways.

Now, the screening folk have started sending me firm, but highly irregular demands via Australia Poost.

I must actively do something and opt out if I am to stop them which is galling as this interest in my faecal matter is entirely unsolicited.

Not being one to hold out indefinitely I will furnish the relevant folk with a stool, but not right now, OK! Not when I feel some damn good.

Experience has taught me a lesson which no amount of proactive, preventative health-care messaging can undo readily and I don’t believe I’m alone.

If you examine your own motions too closely, it’s generally when the proverbial hits the fan.


flick stick folk


The car ahead duly stopped at the crossing, but the brake lights didn’t come on.

As the driver turned into the supermarket car park, I was still immediately behind and as luck would have it we found neighbouring parks.

Bec, I think you need to get your rear lights checked, I said as we headed up the ramp side by side.

Really? Thanks for telling me,” she said.

She found me five minutes later in the freezer section – a tub of Connoisseur butterscotch and gingerbread ice-cream in hand. That stuff is insanely good!

Umm, thanks again, but I have to ask you, like how did you know my name?”

Well, your car has personalised number plates, and there’s a fair chance that you are one and the same.

I can also be pretty confident you have a cat, like pink, and – if that sticky outline of where your partner decal used to be is anything to go by – are recently single

OMG that’s amazing, are you like psychic or something?” She stepped a little closer and looking around furtively, whispered: “Are we … on television?”

Suddenly I felt myself developing a headache and face-palmed my ice-cream.

It’s not enough that people wear their heart on their SUVs.

Increasingly cars contain the entire social nomenclature of the owner’s clan right down to the family goldfish.

Poor things already live in glass bowls: are they entitled to no privacy whatsoever?

Vehicles have become like a new age form of heraldry, only instead of conveying dragons smote, holy crusades enjoined, it’s about the family members’ occupations and leisure activities in order of height.

But, imagine someone’s bad day just got a whole heap worse when they get stuck behind you in the Burnley Tunnel.

Is it really a good idea to keep semaphoring pig-tailed twins playing violins?

Time was you could provide quite useful information to police just by remembering the number plate was black on yellow.

You could also play endless games on road trips where you’d have to come up with a phrase to match number plate letters.

DWAYNE kind of spoils the fun

These days number plates present such a personalised, customised bewildering range of possibilities you’re more likely to take note of the stick figures on the rear window.

Newsflash: Police are seeking the driver of a gold Forester that failed to stop at the scene of a serious accident. Witnesses report the vehicle owner’s second oldest son hanglides and has a rabbit.

But, even the police don’t like them.

Law enforcement agencies abroad have warned cute car decals may be giving too much information to criminals.

Personally I take no pride in the fact the ubiquitous My Family stickers that now smother the car rear windows of the world – including versions to denote members undergoing national service and a multitude of winter sports for Scandinavian folk – were invented by an Australian couple.

Even the parody versions including geek Star Trek, Zombie and Crazy Cat woman families can no longer raise a smile.

My own car is a studied example of anonymity.

In fact I can’t even tell you exactly what colour it is, other than to describe it as that sort of low-key metallic bronze that passes for beige these days.

Now, I just need to figure out where I parked it.

just roo-minating

roo sign

There was a flash of movement at the furthest corner of my eye.

I braked as hard as I dared on a highway just over the crest of hill at night.

But, he had a fair bit of momentum up and the thud as I hit him was sickening.

Pulling to the side of the road, I approached as near as I dared to try to see how badly my victim was injured when, suddenly he pushed himself up and bounded away – apparently more bruised and shocked than broken.

Hitting a roo on the road is an increasing hazard of driving in regional Victoria and even around the urban fringes of Melbourne.

While the damage to the car hadn’t looked too bad under torchlight, the panel beater quickly disabused me of the idea I’d be travelling in it any time soon.

Waving to a workshop full of vehicles in various states of distress, it was clear I’d have to join the queue of vehicles damaged by close encounters with roos.

Sometimes,” Doug declared, “I look out there and 70 per cent of the cars have hit kangas.”

He estimates car-to-kangaroo collisions now account for a third of all his business.

There are actually a lot less cars coming in that have run into another vehicle, but in the last few years the number of kangaroo hits have increased … if you’ll pardon the pun … in leaps and bounds.

A lady came in this morning in a $5000-$6000 van and it’s going to be a write-off for sure. Even the dashboard’s gone. They’re like hitting a brick wall if you hit a big one.”

Do roo whistles work? “Well, put it this way they come in here with all the bells and whistles and they’ve still hit ’em. Even the police cars and they’ve got the expensive shoo roos.

It must be costing the insurance companies a bomb.”

The average cost of claims arising from colliding with animals comes in at over $4500, AAMI personal insurance corporate affairs manager Reuben Aitchison reveals.

And May through July is the worst time of year for animal collisions, with a 40 per cent jump in claims nationally compared to the longer daylight summer months.

The top five postcodes for animal accidents in Victoria are Bendigo, Heathcote, Craigieburn, Gisborne and Whittlesea/Kinglake.

There’s a reason it’s called wildlife – it’s unpredictable,” Reuben says.

My own accident meant I had to borrow my 87-year-old father’s car for a spell.

This apparently gave him time to road-test an idea.

Upon returning the keys my dear dad announced, entirely of his own volition, he was giving up driving – 76 years after he had his very first lesson in his own father’s Oldsmobile – the numberplate of which he still remembers.

In all those years he had only one minor bingle, in 1946 – the result of the other driver’s failure to use a hand signal when turning right.

Dad was never fined, never lost a demerit point for a driving offence and never even got a parking ticket.

It’s an impressive record, but what makes me most proud is that he’s still so mindful of others he wouldn’t dream of considering keeping on driving in stubborn denial of his own physical and mental deterioration for his own convenience.

Sometimes, the truth jumps out at you.

But, it’s a brave man who accelerates toward it.


carte grise

May-June 2014 035

She had such a smiley, open face, and I don’t think she was being sarcastic, but as compliments go it was certainly strange.

We were in the park and the dog had its usual “Happy! I’m so happy!” wiggle up when the woman heading towards us made the fatal mistake of making eye contact.

Next minute she was gone, cooing the kind of noises babies, puppies and kitten evoke as the dog danced delighted before her.

Perhaps the woman thought I felt left out.

I like the way your dog matches your hair,” she said by way of polite conversation.

Say what? It’s not like we contrived it!

When we bought the dog as a bundle of fluff that fitted into your palm she was coal black with a few white tips, but steadily changed colour so that now – nearly five years old – she’s a silver grey.

And, minus the fitting in the palm bit, the dog might give a similar account of me.

The recent decision to stop dyeing my hair seemed as natural as cutting off the largely redundant 40 – 50 centimetres had been a few years earlier.

I told myself back then there comes an an age when we no longer require tresses to impress.

Truth was my hair was a poor thin version of the lustrous locks I’d sported in my 20s and 30s and owned more to product than protein.

Women’s relationship with their hair is extremely complex.

Part plumage and part prophesy as a barometer of emotional state, hair is more reliable than a polygraph.

So I should have had some inkling that something was afoot when I went to visit an life-time dark brunette friend only to discover she’d become, overnight, a cool beige blonde.

In the next eight months she proceeded to leave her husband, take up with a man who runs triathlons and professes to love tofu, and retrain as a real estate agent, by which time her hair had become dazzling ice white.

And she isn’t the only one.

Another friend who, like me, was a close-cropped salt and pepper grey, recently stepped out as a peroxide blonde with a rockabilly quiff which she routinely sprays different colours to match her outfits.

Naturally I was moved to ask: Do blondes with periwinkle pomades have more fun?

Hell yeah!” replied she.

When a third friend, a natural blonde, went cherry red last week I began to wonder if health authorities realised how many people were dyeing.

Is this the manifestation of a female mid-life crisis?

Men starting wearing lycra and riding pushbikes in packs while women hit their hairdressers up for hydrogen peroxide.

Coco Chanel once said a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.

But, a codicil to that might be that a woman who, suddenly, dyes her hair the opposite of her natural colour is about to change everyone else’s.

My friends have made me think … a little.

About whether, for example, I really want to match my wee grey dog at this stage of life.

About whether, if you’ve never, ever been blonde, brunette or redhead you should try it just once.

It’s probably less painful and more sensible than getting a tattoo of Peter Pan on your shoulder.

And, after, all you know what they say.

Hair today, gone tomorrow.