My Best Christmas:

It is a few days before Christmas in London and I am decking the halls of my daughter’s house with holly and tinsel. The year is 2006 and I have walked down her street – Bernard Gardens – with a pair of clippers helping myself to branches from holly hedges, all laden with beautiful red berries. They overhang the low fences bordering the triple-level 19th century Victorian houses.  I am humming the holly Christmas tune “Tis the season to be jolly’’ for the benefit of my two grandsons, Samuel and Angus, who trail along with me.

They are enthralled at how I snip here and snap off a twig there and stuff  a variety of foliage and flowers into my shopping bag. We are gathering greenery to make our own table centrepiece for Christmas Day and they have come along to buy the baubles at the village card shop.

Point-settias are a must and I buy them at the local florist  shop and eventually we traipse back home ready to put together our floral creation,

a table setting for our Christmas Day lunch, the first I have ever made.

It is bitterly cold here and London is shrouded in fog – a pea soup so thick that all flights, both local and from European airports are grounded. There is a melee of about 5000 people camped out at Heathrow, mothers with toddlers in prams, students with backpacks and business-suited blokes, elbow to elbow in the terminals, flowing over into makeshift tents.  Nightly we watch the growing mayhem caused by cancelled flights at  Christmas time.

Perhaps my joy at this simple act of arranging variagated foliage into a flower fashioner and carefully placing pine cones and fixing in bright baubles is misplaced.

After all, French partner, Olivier, flew to France earlier this week to visit his aged mother in St Remy de Provence and he is planning to bring back a bagful of French food goodies, particularly ice-packed fresh mussels and oysters from the Mediterranean Sea.

But right now,  unless the fog lifts, he won’t be able to fly back from Marseilles to London on Christmas Eve – tomorrow. Our Yuletide family celebrations could be thrown into dismay, but Christmas preparations must proceed. My daughter is pregnant  and there is much shopping, gift-wrapping, cooking, cleaning, cake baking and festive decorations to be done before December 25.

Son-in-law, Jon, wants stuffed goose, a traditional British dinner, which should be a synch. – After all, I stuff a turkey each year and have two favourite recipes.

But here in London, nothing is the same. Christmas goose must be stuffed with a chicken, I am told, and I stare in disbelief when he explains in a matter-of-fact tone, that the chicken needs to be stuffed with forcemeat first!

The peace and calm of making the floral centrepiece evaporates and anxiety sweeps into my mind.  Forget the flowers! We cannot eat flowers, the centrepiece of the feast will be the goose!

I need a diversion.  I have a special grandmotherly task this Christmas – to make a gingerbread house.  When I was a mother of three children, each year I planned to make a gingerbread house every year the same honey biscuit recipe that my mother always used.

Yet, it never happened down.  Life was too hectic with all that busyness of full-time work and each year slipped by without a gingerbread house.  This is despite the fact that the recipe was as close as my bookshelf because the front cover of the Time Life  cookbook series book for Germany featured a beautiful gingerbread house.

Now that I am a grandmother, daughter Serena has bought a packaged gingerbread house from the Wimbledon village. It has gingerbread walls with window cutouts, two steep roof pieces, a  chimney and door – all neatly packed in layers.  There is an icing pack and lollies galore to decorate. The grandchildren have been primed to expect this delightful Christmas task with grandma.  As daughter slips out the doors to enjoy her free afternoon shopping in peace for Christmas, she calls back:

“Enjoy, mother!’’.

Happiness is indeed piecing together this little house with Samuel and Angus, who has plonked himself on the table.  We work as a team, sticking together each piece with icing and whipping up more icing into peaks before plastering it on the roof. Samuel decorates the windows with “eyebrows’’ and we take turns to place countless lollies on the roof.  The boys wear party hats and lick their fingers and their eyes sparkle with delight when eventually our little house is finished.  It is such a joy to watch them as they chatter ceaselessly about the house we have made to eat on Christmas Day.

December 24:  The morning news brings good tidings.  The fog has lifted enough for flights to be allowed to land in London and  at around 3.30pm, Olivier walks through the door laden with boxes of oysters and mussels. I am overjoyed to see him and the grandsons hug him in delight.   Christmas is so much about the joy of family reunion.

And now it is Christmas. We gather around the Christmas tree, which has twinkled each night in the bay window, and here we exchange our gifts. My  son-in-law puts on a Christmas CD and daughter tells her sons why gift-giving is a true joy of Christmas. “The Bible tells us that the wise men from the East followed the bright Bethlehem Star until it led them to the infant Jesus where they presented him with precious gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh,’’ she says.

Church follows, but before we leave, I take the goose, stuffed, seasoned, trussed from the fridge and baste it with melted butter before carefully placing it into the hot oven.

Then the magic: The aroma of  the cooked goose wafts down the hallway as we rush in the door. Many hands make light work of setting the table.  Our floral centrepiece is placed on the lace table cloth between two tall candlesticks,  and then the best china is laid out with crystal glasses, silver cutlery and napkins.  The children’s eyes sparkle in anticipation.

The greatest thrill, though, isn’t the French oysters, freshly shucked and doused in vinigraite, but the rich, golden roasted goose.  Olivier sharpens the knife, wields it for effect and we watch in anticipation as he slices right through the two birds and the stuffing.  It is a magnificent feast and absolutely the best Christmas I can remember.

Filled with family fun, sharing joy and gift-giving – and nibbling like mice on that beautiful gingerbread house.


Annie Fox, one of my Facebook friends has a habit  of placing one word online for comment and possibly because another New Year is nigh, she threw in the word  “time’’.

Her move followed another conversation with a learned friend, Dr Pamela Schulz, who told me she is researching a “discourse of time” and its effects on public opinion.

This seemed to be a very curly topic and I prodded her for more information to be told her co-researcher is the eminent Dr Andrew Cannon, Deputy Chief Magistrate of SA.

“We will be looking at how time is being used as a yard-stick for what the courts do,’’ she replied adding their study will be published next year.

My thoughts on time are basic in comparison.

Time is a gift to be used to love ourselves, to love others, to create and to develop whatever unique skills we are blessed with.  The way we use time defines our life force and our qualities as human beings.

And Annie liked these sentiments.

Whatever we think and however we express it, time is precious. The older we get, time slips by as fast as sand through a timer. Watch it happen to get a valuable lesson on the fleeting nature of time.

Which is why, I know the answer of  on equestion in this week’s Brainwaves in the SA Weekend Magazine “What does the Latin expression “tempus fugit” mean?

“Time Flies’’, of course!

100 years of French cultural ties celebrated with haute cuisine.

Alliance Francaise d’Adelaide, affectionately dubbed “the frog pond’ celebrated its 100th anniversary in an unlikely venue – the elite Queen Adelaide Club on Monday night.

However, the French language and cultural institute’s ties to the upper crust women’s club stretch back to 1909 when French woman Madame Berthe Mouchette, founded the Alliance at the Queen Adelaide Club.

And to shoo any shadow of Britishness out of the famous James Place green door, Queen Adelaide Club’s resident chef, French-born chef, Alain Rousse, presented a delectable three-course haute cuisine fit for the French sun-king, Louis XIV.

Alliance stalwart and former St Peters College French teacher, Andrew McKenzie commended the Alliance’s community leaders and its directors for their fortitude to acquire the existing headquarters in Young Street, Wayville.

He praised the thousands of French students who, over the years, had breathed life into the building with their desire to learn the French language.

Mr McKenzie also highlighted the Alliance’s progress over the century including its popular Café Theatre and in the past 10 years, the popular cultural events the French Film Festival, the French Festival at Carrick Hill, its musical evenings and the staging of French theatre.

After praising present director, Philippe Marse for his energy and leadership, Mr McKenzie urged everyone to charge their glasses with Louis Bouillot Grand Reserve champagne to celebrate 100 years of French language education and cultural exchange in Adelaide.

Special guest at the event was Jean-Marc Lestabel, Air France representative, who flew in from Sydney to draw the winning ticket of Alliance’s  Centenary Lottery – and in a dream PR exercise the winner was Alliance student of the French language, Bruce Smith.

But when Mr Lestabel telephoned the winner to announce his prize before the clapping crowd,  Mrs Smith refused to believe him, thinking it was a hoax.

South Australia’s Honorary Consul for France, Dr Christine Rothauser and Alliance Francaise director, Philippe Marse and his wife, Colette, former Labor Minister, Jane Lomax-Smith and president of the French Australian Chamber of Commerce, Philippe Marse headed a long list of renowned Adelaideans with French connections either through birth or business.

One hundred years ago, the Adelaide branch of the Alliance Francaise was designed to continue its world-wide role of cultivating better relationships between British and French peoples.

The Advertiser on Friday, July 8, 1910 reported on page 8 that “the object of the club is to promote French conversation, the study of French literature and art and to show hospitality to visiting members of the Alliance.’’

“The rooms were decorated with flags and pictures and over the doorway were suspended the Australian and French flags, as well as several French rapiers. There was a large gathering of members and Lady Way, the president in declaring the club opne, trusted that it would long give benefit and enjoyment to all who were united in the common love of the French language and literature, and of French culture and social charm.’’

Such a prestigious event took place before the cream of Adelaide society including vice-presidents Lady Bonython, Lady Gordon and Mrs Reid Baird (delegate from Paris) and the French honorary secretary, Miss Doris Hawker

But,  100 years later in 2010, while the Alsace Gentil “Hugel’’ wine flowed and everyone tucked into Tournedos de Boeuf a la Bordelaise, there was one glaring omission – the French flag was nowhere to be seen.

Boomers Bubble To Burst as Retirees.

If ever there were prophetic words uttered recently, they were delivered by high profile demographer Bernard Salt to the National Press Club.

He gave yet another gripping scenario of what it means for society as the first boomers reach pensionable age next year – 65 years after 1946, which triggered the post-war baby boom, which continued in high fertility rates until 1961.

He poured forth facts which cannot be fudged: Within a matter of  years, we will have 4.5 million retirees – a  whopping 2 million more than the 2.5 million retirees at present.

“I have a very confronting observation for you,’’ he said.

“Whatever amount of money you are able to raise, it ain’t gonna be enough.  We will be working longer, you will be paying more taxes, we will be dragging in more skilled workers – and it still isn’t going to be enough.

“And that all comes down to the expectations of the baby boomers, the “me’ generation.’’

He warns that politicians have not grasped the reality of what lies ahead.

“We need to get more people to pay more tax to fund what is required in the health system,’’ he said.

AJA – 100th year

Leak: the new four-letter word.

“Leak’’ is the new four-letter word, according to veteran political journalist, Laurie Oakes in accepting the highest accolade in journalism – the 2010 Gold Walkley Award – this week.

Oakes had pulled off the political news coup of the year, following two sensational leaks from within the Australian Labor Party camp which impacted negatively on Julia Gillard’s credibility in this year’s election.

He reported on Gillard’s role in the axing of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and – from Labor’s inner sanctum – he confronted her on her opposition to granting paid maternity leave.

Paid maternity leave has been the Holy Cow of women voters for decades and the skulduggery involving Rudd’s removal, an elected Prime Minister in his first term of office, was an emotive issue with voters.

The glittering Walkleys event televised this week celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Australian Journalists’ Association, the media union, now the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance.

Holding up his award, Oakes told the gathered media elite:  “Thank you Julia’’.

He then slammed the Gillard Government over its handling of  the arrest of Wikileaks founder, Australian Julian Assange.

““Leak is a four-letter word… To brand Wikileak as illegal with there is no instance of an breach of the law was demeaning of our government and as journalists we should make it clear that is our view,’’ he said.

Relationships are cornerstone for healthy men

Close relationships can form the cornerstone for a man’s whole life but friendships with other men are also an important source of support and understanding, says the Adelaide Northern Division of General Practice.

In a handout prepared for Mens Health Week, the ANDGP recommends men need at least three other close friends and mates who they can talk to and feel comfortable sharing their lives.

Healthy relationships are not limited to those men have with their wives, partners and family, but also the ability to talk man to man to a close friend is one of the important planks of health and longevity.

“Often the harder something is to talk about the better you will feel when you finally express it,’’ he says.

The value of friendship is self-esteem is often usurped by the importance of the primary relationship, but the Australian Men’s Shed Association believes community-based Men’s Shed groups provide a valuable place for men to build on mateship and fulfil some important emotional needs.

The broader the ripple effect that men have built for themselves beyond the nucleus of family, the better equipped they will be to overcome conflicts and stresses – the other side of every healthy relationship, says ANDGP.

“Being able to handle and deal with these differences is part of establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship and part of being a man,’’ says ANDGP board chairman, Dr Simon Hall.

Dr Hall, a northern suburbs GP, says maintaining good relationships builds a stronger mental attitude and resilience.

Contact Mensline Australia on 1300 78 99 78.