Boomers are chameleons in societal change

(Front) Leanne, Maureen, Nadine, Rose (rear) Pam, Julie, Fiona, Glenda and Gill.

No-one told me book clubs were so interesting, not so much because of the books under discussion,  but by the real life circumstances of the women attending.

When my friend Glenda asked me to be a special guest at the meeting, when members would discuss my book From France With Love, I eagerly agreed as long as I didn’t have to give an address.

However, that adage “Life is stranger than fiction” revealed itself over the course of the evening’s chatter.  These eight women had taken their fair share of life’s knock-downs, but they had all picked themselves up and simply moved on to other things – and other men, other marriages and other jobs.

Buoyed up by flowing French champagne to suit the mood of the night, they shared their life histories and I marvelled at their adaptability and how they reflected the average boomer’s life course. Baby boomers were born post World War II between 1946 and 1964 to flood Australia with babies, who grew up to be the first generation to be termed “teenagers”, who became the “Me”” generation and the divorce generation in adulthood.

In the book club seven of the eight women have divorced and only dark-haired Julie is still married to only husband Bruce.

Three women have remarried to create new family lives.  Maureen is married to a school principal, Gill, a home economics teacher at Seymour College has a second husband, named Udo who is a very German teacher at Westminster School and Pam and Roy are also on their second marriages.  Leanne and Glenda have male partners. Blonde-haired Rose, who chooses to sit on the floor and quiet brunette Fiona are single women and both admit to being on the look-out for Mr Nice Guy.  Long-time divorcee Glenda reckons she has found hers in Andrew, also divorced, whom she has known for six years. Late last year, she moved into his apartment.  “I decided that the timing was right for me to move in with Andrew. I do feel as if we have been together forever,’’ exudes Glenda.   “His daughter left home and my daughter had got married and it just seemed the natural course to take in our relationship”. Glenda is the instructor in charge of the swimming with a disability program for the Department for Education and Child Development.  She teachers swimming at Minda to 120 intellectually disabled children and adults aassociated with Minda and another 310 students with a disability.

Glenda, who works a 25 hour week, says she loves her new apartment lifestyle. “I had  a large house, tennis court, pool and a big gardens and it is a change to coming back to an apartment after a days work. I have a cup of tea or a glass of wine with my feet up. But it will only work if you accept such a change.”

Meanwhile, I am the only widow and noticeably vulnerable among these fun-loving women.

The women have been meeting at their book club since their children all attended Coromandel Valley  Primary School and those very children are now breeding making Rose and Fiona, grand-parents.  I am the third grandparent with four grandchildren.

These women have been chameleons, changing to suit their changing situations and roles. As a group they personify the broader baby boomer female demographic and all – aged from late 50s to early 60s – are still in the workforce.

Julie is busy at this time of the year working in marketing at the Adelaide Show.  The single-agains Fiona and Rose are very work-oriented. “I am the nurse in the group,’’ says Fiona, who says nightshift at Flinders Medical Centre tends to “blur the brain”. “I don’t get involved with many medical discussions because I leave it all at work.’’

“I am divorced with four children and even though the youngest is 29 this year, they will always be my boys and girls. I have one grandchild, a boy named Charlie, who is almost three years old and another  – a girl – is due in November.’’

Meanwhile, Rose has found a niche as a hairdresser for a retirement village and what began as an invitation to visit a former client from her salon when she entered a retirement village has became her business. Maureen, who was an air hostess in a former life, now works in tourism organising flights for clients.

Gill’s superb French-style macaroons

Effervescent Pam is the business woman of the group, as a wholesaler of imported scarves, jewellery and other exotic accessories.  Most of the women wear either one of her scarves or a piece of jewellery she has sold them at one of her clearance sales.  Pam was an extra in the movie Shine and has promised  to teach me how to wear scarves with French style.  Leanne has changed direction turning from hairdressing to working in the retail sector selling material atg a fabric store on Marion Road in Marion.  She plans to retire soon and will be the second woman in the group to retire.

However, the other “retiree’’, Gill has recently stepped out of retirement to return to teaching at Seymour College. She was previously a home economics teacher at Annersley before the demise of the college.

She is the  renowned cook/caterer andruns a small catering business from home, Girls with Nothing Better To Do.  To prove it she has brought a plate of her home-made authentic French macaroons for our book event. Gill also enters her baking and cooking into the Adelaide Show and usually walks off with prizes.

Gill has hopes for a bigger home, but husband is immovable. “We are till in the 1980s small deouble brick three-bedroom house we built,” she says. “Not the right time to sell in this area, but I would love a sea change soon. I still will need a small garden and space to do our own thing, but I want a big house before I die.”

Gill has discovered exercise and has completed the City to Bay run three times and the Mothers Day Classic once.

Housing is also on Pam’s mind as she has her children living at home. “The kids leave all their stuff at home while they travel the world then come home for a few months or years…Meanwhile we get to retirement age and don’t know whether to stay in the famioy home as long as possible or try to find something perhaps a little smaller with less garden, or even a new home,” she says. “It is all linked to your financial situation as housing has become more expensive. The money issue is quite important as we have greater expedfctations of our later years than generations before us.   My only solution is to keep working.”

Meanwhile, Julie and Bruce have placed their  big, old home, which has been in the family for generations,  on the market.  “We would like to down size,” says Julie. “We are hoping to move to something smaller closer to the beach. The house is getting too much for us to look after and too big for our needs”.  They also want to free up some money for travel. “Bruce being self-employed we did not travel overseas when we were younger.”

All of these interesting life journeys unfolded as we sipped French champagne and nibbled hors d’oevres  before consuming every last macaroon with coffee at the end of the evening.

Boomers and their bags reveal gen gap.

Here is a light-bulb moment from baby boomer, Gilly Joschke, a teacher at Adelaide’s prestigious Seymour College.

“I did an interesting activity with my year 8 students this week. I asked them to interview a significant woman in their life concerning what style of handbag best suited their personality and what they stuff/collect in their bags. Very interesting differences in the age groups represented. Most over 60’s had a brush or comb plus reading glasses in the bag, 30 somethings had lip gloss and sunnies and under 20’s had food. Now what does that say about each gen?????’’.
(Comments welcome. Meanwhile, my black leather bag carries reading glasses, big diary, wallet, small notebook, hair brush, a few pencils, a gold biro, lipstick, a dozen business cards, and most important, my mobile telephone.

It has two front pockets which click shut and in one I store my keys and in the other I still have a supply of Oli’s painkillers and jellybeans.  It is the best bag and weighs a ton to carry around, but everything I need to carry out my life is at my fingertips. )

Be Happy Today

Here are some uplifting words for anyone feeling the weight of the passing years. I found the birthday card which has been in a drawer for years and now I send it to you to endorse those lovely feelings Spring brings.

Be happy today…

Because growing older means

You have more strength to share…

More lessons to teach…

More warmth to give.

Be happy today

Because every beautiful thing

About you

Only grows more beautiful

With time.


Love, Two Lipsticks and a Lover to be French!

My new habit of reading each morning and night has unlocked some delightful books in my bookshelf which have not been opened for years.

Two, in particularly – both outrageously Francophilic – have whetted my appetite for returning to France in future.

One is La Vie Parisienne by Australian journalist Janelle McCulloch, who once shared a stage with me at a literary event organised by the NSW Library. We both talked of our books, hers with its flippant sub-title “Looking for Love – and the Perfect Lingerie’’, and me with my memoir From France With Love and its sub-title, “A Love Story with Baggage.’’

I turned green with envy when she said her book had been launched in the UK a few months earlier in April 2008 and had sold 7000 copies.  Although my own book was a success – being the fifth national best seller for Penguin in the January of that year, the first print run was a mere 4000.

We exchanged our books and this week I finally read Janelle’s take on living in Paris.

Hers is a delightful memoir (as is mine), the big difference being that mine is a love story with Olivier and Janelle tries hard to find a French fella without success. Instead, she falls in love with the “whole glorious lustre’’ of Paris.  Meanwhile, with my lovely Frenchman by my side at the wheel of our car, I fell in love with the whole of France!

Janelle begins each chapter with an evocative quote such as the one from Nina Berberova introducing Chapter 4 All Bar Vin.

“Paris. Paris. There is something silken and elegant about that word, something carefree, something made for a dance, something brilliant and festive, like Champagne.’’

Janelle lived in Paris for 12 months and writes about how she absorbed herself into French stylish culture so much so that she tried to re-invent herself and become Parisian.

However, the charm of La Vie Parisienne is how she captures the fabric of Paris,  its unique stylish atmosphere and architecture and the elegance of its people.

“What journalists failed to understand is that Paris is what it is because of the Parisians. Okay, so they have a penchant for posturing, and are known for their uncompromising opinions on style, sex and what to put on a plate, but there is still a wonderfully generous spirit lurking beneath all that attitude.’’

“Parisians have a phrase to describe such things, the little things they love most about living in their city. This phrase is petit tresors which means “the small treasures’ of life. It refers to the captivating signs and tucked-away stores, the fabulous open-air street markets, the beautiful bridges and serene backstreets and the unforgettable cul-de-sacs you discover…’’ she writes.

Then there are the subtleties of the city, the sounds of the streets, the conversations, the exuberance of café life and the rich scents. “If I close my eyes I can always smell something in Paris; heady Guerlain cologne, delicious offerings from busy patisseries, big cut bunches of white lilies at picturesque flower stalls and rich coffee beans being ground…’’

Janelle is clearly smitten by Paris because she has gone on to write another coffee table book on Paris including Paris Secrets: Architecture, Interiors, Quartiers, Corners.’’

Strangely, despite her sincere efforts,  the much-famed romance of the French male eludes here and Janelle failed to find a French lover in her 12-month sojourn in the City of lovers.

However, she finds l’art de vivre intoxicating and hands on her wisdom on French style and  she describes how to invite seduction by “always being ready’’ with intimate lingerie.

An entertaining, well-written primer on pretending to be Parisian, La Vie Parisienne, published by Murdoch Books, is available on the Internet.

Two Lipsticks and a Lover by Helena Frith Powell is a more advanced tome of knowledge on French life. However, it is written in a plainer style.  The difference is in the substance. Helena Frith Powell is a long-time Parisienne and she is the real deal. Her anecdotes of important Parisians are impressive. Powerhouses such as politician Segolene Royal and former Legerfeld muse Ines de la Fressange freely pass on their gems of wisdom on how to be a stylish, chic, elegant French woman and societl mores.

Here is a basic rule from Dorothee Werner, the social affairs writer for Elle in Paris:”The point is that the foundation of society in France is that men and women know they are different but feel equal. Therefore the whole relationship is more nature. The men are also less of a caricature than  in England, where you have the classic bloke in the pub,’’ says Dorothee.

Helen has a mysterious French man she names “B” and he has more to add to the sexual antics of the French male.

“What I am saying is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way. No man can be friends with a woman he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.’’

Helen capitalises on her access to the top women such as Sophie Sarkozy who describes French women’s indefineable flair.

“Just go to the avenue Montaigne and you will see I there,’’ says Sophie. “There is always, no mater what time of day or night, a girl there who epitomises what we think of as the classic Parisian.  She will be thin, perhaps not ultra elegant, but fasionable. And above all she will have an allure. It’s genetic and we French women have it, rather like the Balinese dancers; it’s not something you can learn.’’

Janelle’s book is a more entertaining, lyrical read, but Helena’s stuff forms a handy reference for anyone wanting to get a grip of French society although I doubt that you do need “two lipsticks and a lover’’.



Blossoms everywhere herald Spring

Cherry blossoms and bees herald Spring

What an idyllic beginning to Spring!  September 1 dawns a delightful day. Azure blue, cloudless skies, balmy sunshine, soft breezes and a temperature which passes 20.   After such a long, cold, wet winter, we surely rejoice at the warmth in the air, blossoming trees and choruses of chirping birds in the trees.

For the first time in two years, I take an early morning walk in Belair National Park from the Sheoak Road entrance, over the railway bridge and past the historic gatekeepers house, down Sir Edwin Smith Drive and along the avenue of tall, mature sugar gums.

My doggie, Oscar, cannot believe his luck as he sniffs the natural bushland environment which he has not experienced before.  However, the park – the largest in the Southern Hemisphere – seems to have suffered much because of the decade of drought with many more dead trees and so many fallen to the ground.  There is no longer a canopy of tall gums to my left as I approach the arbor of sugar gums ahead of me.  There are runners intermittently appearing on the “duck waddle’’ short cut path to the lake and the odd cyclist and others, like myself, walking their dogs, stick to the main bituminised thoroughfare.  The gums seem full of birds and the flowering wattle colours my path. For half an hour I wonder at the beauty of the natural bush, which has always been within a kilometre of the two homes at Belair where I have lived for 20 years of my life.

Golden fluffballs of wattle

Back in my own driveway, I notice the wild plums are blossoming. There are snowdrops in the garden, violets peep out around the flowering cherry tree, pansies bloom by the letterbox and the neighbour’s mature wattle tree is ablaze with yellow pompoms.I pray that the joy of  Spring brings a change for me, too, from the sadness of grief and loss at Olivier’s death to acceptance and an understanding that life is still good.