Saturday, 21 June 2014


List of Published Works (2012-.....)

A'na McGinley  nov/dec2013 issue, pg60, Review "Sunshine Soup"

Friday, 20 June 2014

Hanging Out in Dutch Saunas

Last week I spent a few hours at our local sauna with my husband.  Unlike many people of Northern European origins, the idea of hanging out and sweating buckets in the company of nude strangers – has low appeal to me.  The double pass to the sauna (valued at 80euros) was a Christmas gift from my spouse and facing its expiry date.  I hate waste, and, the challenge of extending my comfort zone to a place of nervous laughing is something I find difficult to resist.

Anticipating that going to the sauna on the weekend may be equated to going to the markets to choose meat that you plan to cook at home,  I arranged childcare for a Thursday night.  Further, I was plucked like a hippy chicken with bonus clean cut toenails.  In usual fashion, my husband had showered and shaved, that morning, before going to work.

We handed in the voucher at the reception desk, climbed the stairs, and discovered that there was only one unisex change-room.  Disrobing, we were stumped by not knowing the protocol for body coverage during the short journey down the stairs, through the restaurant into the sauna area.  My husband was all for wearing flipflops.  I ignored his assertion that draping a towel around myself would cause the other customers to feel uncomfortable, and adorned myself in three items:  two flip flops and one towel.  Soon I felt smug that I was not the one feeling stupid, or having to return to the change-room for a towel.

So fine, we make it to the sauna and issue salutations to the other patrons while maintaining eye contact.  Ditching towels and shoes, we shower and head into the sauna box.  About six dripping naked people were sitting, lying, and conversing in this small ridiculously hot space.  Although my eyes were mostly closed, I do know that I was surrounded by a mix of gender, age and tattoo coverage.  An older, larger lady had taken over a whole bench by prostrating herself.  Two guys were having a heated conversation about which neighbourhoods were easier to demand higher fees as house painters (yes, it is true – non-Dutch people are worth more money).

An old bald gentleman joined the party, stopping to throw more wood onto the sauna, before squeezing onto a lower bench.   As he sat down I noticed that he had a catheter (with plug, not bag) attached to his leg by an elastic band.  My eyes popped open in disbelief and my stomach valves loosened.  To me, a catheter seems to be an accessory not really welcome in even a Dutch sauna or spa.  Like a swimsuit.  Or socks.  Or a diaper.  But this is the Netherlands – a land of tolerance.  My reaction once again proves that I will never truly be ingrained within the culture of my adopted homeland.

Giving ourselves few long minutes to camouflauge any discomfort we may have felt, we left the sauna and headed to the showers to cool off and debrief, before tackling the remaining areas on offer.  All up, we managed to stay involved in this relaxing and rejuvenating exercise for about one hour.  I use italics because I never really made it into the relaxation zone.  I was nauseous from the heat, in pain from the cold, and freaked out that I may end up with tinea on my private regions from the steam room. 

Our neighbourhood sauna is like most saunas, I guess.  Hot wooden room; wet and steamy tiled room; ice-bath; warm bubbling spa; salt scrub area;  showers and large buckets of cold water; outside nude area; relaxation lounge; and, small café with television.  Except for the roof top butt naked zone,  we partook of everything on offer.  The highlight for me was having a beer while wrapped in a towel, facing a room full of nude folk.  That is an image that doesn’t come up too often in my average week.

Here is a confession.  I am from a large island in the Southern Hemisphere.  I grew up near the beach. Just like all my female friends, I was mortified if my mother took off her swimsuit and was naked in a women’s only changing room at the beach or local pool.  Like all Australian women of my age (younger than you think), I was highly skilled in switching an entire set of clothes while having a towel wrapped around myself.  Nudity was for tourists and old nutters. 

A second  confession is that I have been to other saunas around the world.  In New York, I had a limited membership at the Russian baths on 10th street in Manhattan.  This weekend evening sessions were extremely popular especially with singles and gays.  At all times, patrons had to be clothed.  Men wore the shorts and women dressed in the green dressing gowns issued as you entered the reception area.  Both sexes worn plastic flipflops.  By comparison, during a stay at a Helsinki youth hosteI, there was some obvious disgruntlement caused by me wearing a swim suit.  Really, it was a hot cupboard filled with nude people - looking at me like I was the odd one.

So why is it that people who grow up in the colder areas of Europe are so keen to be naked - together?  My uncle and aunt, both in their 80s, recently gave up membership to their much-loved naturalist club.  For the uninitiated, this is a nudist, and not gardening, club.  Is it a unquenched need for vitamin D?  Is it a reaction to growing up in a Calvinistic society?  Is it just seeking tactile freedom denied many months of the year due to the cold climate?  Or is it plain exhibitionism? 

The flipside to these questions is why do Asians, Americans, Australians and possible Africans all have issues with public nudity.  It is a coincidence that these are all A-cultures? (sorry, obvious joke).   Are we seriously prudish about our bodies and other people’s bodies?  Have we separated the naked self from being part of our humanity?

Many questions and ideas to ponder alone in the bathtub, or with a group of naked people in a sauna.  For me, the need to expose myself remains non-existent.  It isn’t about being embarrassed about my own body.  It is about an unspoken intimacy with strangers.  More, it is about seeing the same face serving me at the bank, and feeling uncomfortable that I know a secret about them and vice versa.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014


Hipsters aren’t all good-looking stylish superior trustafarian talented lazy party-addled self-doubting snobby multi-sexual artistes.

I’m going to get myself one of those hipsters.   They are so adorable with their smooth hair, neat beards, tidy tattoos, and earnest eyes.  I love their retro clothes – all pressed and buttoned correctly.  The dedication to arts and crafts is so cute, even if their desire to become financially independent from their hobbies is unrealistic.  Using old fashioned bikes to get around, eating bio-organic museli, drinking green grass juice – mindfulness without the need to conform to the rules of Buddhism.   Yes, they do seem to be a serious bunch, but this is just part of being super cool.  Hipsters actually love unstated fun.  They  often treat themselves with  European cigarettes and old man beers, especially after working a shift at a busy café.    Their music sounds like something my parents enjoyed,  -  spinning records and sipping ginger wine with the disapproval of their own parents.  Most of all I love that they pretend to live in an alternate world, rejecting the mainstream to develop their own self-identity wearing op-shop clothing treasures and rehashing the 1960s lifestyle, minus the offensive political doctrines on issues like gender or race or sexuality. 

I hope that when I get myself a hipster it will be like living with my Dad before I was born.  A time when he wore a beard and side-part; listened to his own cool music; knew how to make pizza dough by hand; rode a bike or took the bus as was fitting to his (financial) means; smoked Camel cigarettes; drank German wine from funny shaped green bottles; and dated a woman with smoky eyes, feminine clothing and cat-eyed sunglasses. 

Anyway, I think getting a hipster would be fun.  A 20-something guy with a top-knot or a brill-creamed ‘do and matching beard, with plaid shirt, skinny pants and decent shoes – to help out with the cooking, gardening, morning expresso – and maybe a touch of knitting if needed.   Hmmm, that could be a fun addition to the house.

This one looks like he knows his way around an ironing board....

                                                   Photo by Christian Rodriguez via Pinterest

Friday, 18 April 2014

Asbestos Awareness Week

            1-7 April 2014:  Asbestos Awareness Week 

Growing up in old Australian houses, with asbestos in the roofing - means that we were all at risk of developing mesothelioma.  Spend a minute thinking about the people who were not so lucky, and then resend the link.  Make the people you know aware of the dangers of asbestos.

Saturday, 11 January 2014


I don’t have any. This is a problem for me. Daily. I start the day impatient with the coffee machine. I end the day impatient that I can’t fall asleep instantly. Yes, I know. I am not a Zen person.

In retrospect, I have always been short on patience. My childhood memory of waiting for my parents to collect me from school or some other activity still cause me angst, especially as my parents are a little lax with time. Hence, my preference was to do things solo and in my own prompt pace. Obviously parts of my personality could be labeled type A.

Relief from impatience arrived during my university days. Maintaining impatience when everyone around you is chilling out, hanging with friends, listening to music and drinking beer – is really difficult. This cure stayed with me for years.

Post graduation I became more focused and with some lucky breaks, was able to attain a satisfying, albeit short-lived, career in mental health. My newly acquired patience enabled me to work with clients slow on telling their stories and understanding their reality. Better still, having patience meant that I could sit through innumerable, mind-paralyzing meetings without pulling off my fingernails or stabbing colleagues with a pen.

Time moved on, and these wage-earning days were terminated by marriage and subsequent relocation to an unfamiliar country. Just as my suitcase was finally ready to be stored, I discovered I was pregnant. Undoubtedly, having the luxury to experience pregnancy and motherhood unencumbered by the necessity to go to work each day – is not something to complain about. Yet as my former self transformed into wife and mother, my patience began to dwindle. Long days at home without mental or social stimulation, had me longing for something to reignite my intellect and rediscover my former self before becoming a parent and spouse.

Five years on, I returned to my home country with my husband and our brood of three young children. Being desperate that like my breasts, my brain would never return to its former glory (working capacity) state, I located suitable childcare and a part-time job. The focus (and stress) of reestablishing myself within the workforce and catching up on new developments provided the mental stimulation needed to calm my anxiety levels. My patience returned. Again I could work effectively with my clients; survive the drudgery of meetings; and return home with a renewed appreciation and love for my family. My sense of life satisfaction was comfortably hanging in the black.

It is time for my second confession. I am addicted to change. I especially love the challenge that comes with larger changes – like moving to countries foreign in both culture and language.

Yes, the opportunity to deconstruct our familiar, satisfying life and to jump feet first into the unknown arose. We grabbed it. I figured that now I had the experience necessary to allow me to maintain my own sense of satisfaction in this new life. My first focus was to ensure that each member of the family was ‘sorted and settled’, and then I would move onto myself. So what happened? The obvious: another baby, a beautiful little girl that we adopted. Again my life became hectic with just the commitments of being a parent to four kids. I squeezed in a Masters degree, charity and committee membership, and a small teaching job. And then we were transferred to another country for twelve months. And then transferred to a new continent…

It has been 15 years of changes. Everyday I still feel the impatience of not reaching a potential that I crave, yet can’t clearly identify. My lack of patience could be interpreted by a lack of acceptance of the traditional role of wife and mother. I agree with this, but it does sting. I prefer to think of it as the expat partner phenomena. Expat partners tend to be well-educated, professional people – who join their partners on an adventure to live internationally, but who are not able to realize their professional potential in this new life due to various factors, including responsibility to raise children. For most women, becoming a stay-at-home mother did not make it into the top ten of personal goals we set ourselves.

Next move? For me, there are no more babies or planned international relocations on the horizon. The kids are settled and I have learnt enough of the local language to do what I need to do without looking too foolish. Returning to my previous career is not an option. The local system doesn’t have a place for me, and I don’t have enough enthusiasm to hassle the system to make me a place. Mental stimulation comes via observing and writing. Luckily I don’t need to support myself – or this would not be an option. Impatience is now triggered by a lack of time to sit and type, uninterrupted. It comes from internal struggle I have to create a new self-identity. With perseverance, hopefully my patience will return and I will be satisfied with my life, wherever it is based.

Sunday, 5 January 2014


Last month there was a story in Dutch newspapers about a local punter charged with insulting the policeman who confiscated his can of beer. For his insult of choice: “mierenneuker” or “ant-fucker”, the man was fined 250euros. Seriously. Even in this passionless country, throwing "ant-fucker" as an insult is ridiculously lame. I suspect the judge gave the fine to punish the guy for being pathetic.

The art of swearing, cursing and verbally insulting someone is culturally dictated. For example, Italians are masters in the field – due to the color, sound and dramatics incurred in their verbal assaults. To understand the true translation of an Italian insult, the recipient needs to comprehend both the Italian language and deaf sign language.

Actually in most cultures there exists common themes in verbal abuse. Generally these themes aim to demean a person by claiming sexual relations with the wife, sister or mother of the individual. Accusing someone of being in a sexual relationship with the family pet, is another repeated theme of abuse found in many cultures.

While these common themes are also espoused by emotional individuals found in football stadiums, bars and on the streets of Amsterdam and other Dutch cities, Dutch verbal abuse tends to focus more on inflicting cancer or some other illness on someone. So, be offended if during your next trip to the Netherlands, someone yells at you “val dood vuile kankerhoer” (translation: drop dead stupid cancer hooker). Similarly, “Ik laat een scheet in jouw richting” (translation: I fart in your direction) – although you should probably put some distance between you and your abuser in this instance. Taking offence should be short-lived though – as translating the assault should remove all sting intended, and identify the abuser as a pathetic fool.