Thursday, February 12, 2009

Living Abroad Matters Nine - The New Me

The Make-Over, The Face Time

Thanks to the brutal but timely intervention of Justine, the make-over begins in earnest. I touched-up my roots, fake tanned my legs, painted my nails and ditched the tee shirts. It’s working. A man even stood up for me on the Tube.

If this sounds like an entry in Bridget Jones’s Diary it’s because I have discovered that a puerile focus on my appearance is the missing piece in My Grand Plan To Conquer London.

This week I have two goals: the complete make-over and to get Face Time with editors. The theory is that once they experience me in person they will succumb to my irresistible charms. I am moving in for the kill. I’m making the calls. I’m insisting on appointments. I am indomitable. It’s all to do with this yoghurt diet that’s lining my stomach and giving me crystal clear clarity and nerves of steel.

I attend a PR function at The Ritz with my new friend Rhona. Yes, I kid you not. High Tea in the sumptuous, elegant dining room of The Ritz, with immaculate waiters and 12 types of tea in silver pots, finger foods and dainty pastries on tiered trays.

I meet this dazzling woman who captivates me. I can’t take my eyes off her! She is a consummate study in image creation. She has the right hair do, the perfect outfit with a cami that doesn’t show her bra straps, tasteful chunky jewellery, the latest zany frames and she stage manages the conversation with the greatest aplomb. Riveting. Oh if only I could get me some of that spin doctor magic!

I’ve been working from home for too long, communicating with people by email. I’ve forgotten how to string words together to form verbal sentences. My repartee is rusty. Oh Darling, I don’t know how to schmooze! And of course I am dressed all wrong. I am drab in black pants and dark corporate jacket in this exquisite setting of romantic pastel murals and ladies in frilly floral dresses. Rhona is looking gorgeous in a designer frock.

There is hope for me. Day Three I have pinned down an interview with an editor in two weeks. Perfect timing for the roll-out of the new slim-line model! I jump a bus to Ealing Broadway and hit Marks & Spencer with a mission.

I buy new camisoles, a sturdy heavy-duty strapless bra, new moderate-heeled sandals. (Fair go! I won’t fall flat on my face for fashion!). I am accessorising my favourite soft blue suit with cheerful spring colours of watermelon pink, lilac, lemon and white. I find a bag shop and buy a breezy spring handbag. Casting off the gothic look, I feel lighter already.

I wander into a hairdressing salon to make an appointment for tomorrow but the lovely Spanish lady throws me straight in the chair. Would NOW be too soon? Nadia has lived in London for 12 years with her chef husband and two sons and for her city life is not non-stop fun, rather non-stop work. She gives me a precision cut and a new fringe. I look all girlish, reminiscent of mum’s famous sticky tape fringe! But it softens my boffin forehead!

Never mind the work-out, it’s the getting to the gym that’s the real ordeal. And I mean that literally. I am heading for the Esporta Health Club in Chiswick when the terribly helpful-not bus driver suggests I am going in the wrong direction and sends me to the opposite side of the street to jump a bus, which takes me on a wild goose chase. The club is only 1.6 miles from our flat but I must have bounced through every twist and turn and back street for 16 miles; an hour and half. Talk about taking the long way round.

All frazzled when I arrive, the charming young salesman shows me around the immaculate facilities. I am seduced by the rows of impressive machines, the pristine exercise studios, the sparkling pool and the enticing spa. I visualise myself pumping iron, elegantly stretching in the Pilates class, streaking up the pool and topping it off with a soak in the Jacuzzi, a sauna and a pampering massage. Aahh. Bliss.

But when I consult my financial advisor by mobile, Andrew promptly decides the cash would be better spent on our travels in the States. So I reserve that fantasy for the future. I imagine that regular session in a luxurious health club like this would help city workers through the long bleak winters in London.

Meanwhile Andrew is catching up for breakfast with long-time friend Shane Howard who’s in London for the Murundak Black Arm Band concert at the South Bank Centre on the Thames. Shane is the extraordinarily talented singer-songwriter-guitarist who led the Goanna Band to phenomenonal success in the 80s. His ground-breaking Solid Rock brought the plight of Indigenous Australians to global attention and has become an iconic song of the era, released in 35 countries.

Shane helped save the beautiful Franklin River in Tasmania from being damned with his rousing hit anthem. His music has impacted our culture and he continues to champion the Aboriginal struggle for social justice and human rights. He is prolific, producing over 20 top-selling CDs, performing all over the world and is a favourite adopted son in Ireland. Andrew and I have admired Shane for his achievements and the inspirational man he is for 30 years since our Deakin University days.

Shane arranges tickets for us and we are privileged as Australians to witness the Aboriginal cause brought to the London stage. The concert is brilliant with an outstanding line-up of over 30 of the finest Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal performers, including string and brass sections, an incredible piano player and the soul-stirring sounds of the didgeridoo (that resonates through every fair dinkum Aussie within cooee).

Set against a big screen showing fascinating footage of the history of the Aboriginal struggle since White invasion, the songs take the audience by the hand on a musical journey that is more gentle and tender and brimming with hope and optimism than accusatory and strident. The poetic rendition of Down City Streets by revered elder Ruby Hunter with acclaimed Archie Roach works its way into my heart. The audience is moved by the poignancy of Is This What We Deserve? and the sweet love song, Nyul Nyul Girl. The strong, soothing voices speak of redemption for both black and white.

We briefly join Shane at an after-show reception hosted by the Australian High Commission and bid him farewell as he heads for a performance in Ireland then home to his devoted wife Theresa and family of seven children and growing number of grandchildren, his parents and countless brothers and sisters and close friends. He is wrapped in love. What a legend. What an honour to see Shane perform in London. Reawakening my social conscience totally blitzes my self-absorbed make-over.

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