Sink or Swim

sink or swim

A novel

‘HIGHLY COMMENDED’ 2013 FAW NATIONAL LITERARY AWARDS – CHRISTINA STEAD AWARD FOR FICTION. Through a combination of bad luck and poor decisions a once privileged grazing family are forced from their historic property. Relocation to a coastal caravan park provides benefits for some and consequences for others, dire consequences. The high cost of low life!

I recently received an urgent SMS a from a gal pal (let’s call her Darl because, well, that’s what I call her) saying she was halfway through a novel I simply had to read. It was about a farming family (of which we know many) in Australia’s Riverina who fall on hard times and end up living in a caravan / trailer park. There were old homesteads, country polo tournaments, boarding schools and even Florence Broadhurst wallpaper. The protagonist’s extended family lived in exclusive Palm Beach (Australia’s – Malibu like – surf beach enclave) adding to the intriguingly elitist tone.

It sounded like just the light, airy and rollicking read I needed to cheer myself up in the depths of winter. Pure escapism.

Owen Ravenscroft

Author Owen Ravenscroft’s challenging novel Sink or Swim is available now to download on Itunes and Amazon. I highly recommend it!

What Darl and I didn’t know was the second half of the book was going to take us on a journey neither of us foreshadowed.

So dark, so unexpected, so traumatic were some passages we simply had to persist and keep reading. The sipping of champagne at Riverina Polo soon gave way to anally injecting heroin in a filthy cabin. (Among other twists we didn’t see coming)

At the end Darl turned to Pinterest for diversion and respite. I had to walk to the beach to clear my mind. If I didn’t live 800 kilometres from Darl, I’m sure a live debrief would’ve involved several Riverina Semillion Blancs.

As the days passed we found we were still talking about the novel. We were also increasingly beside ourselves the family were forced to live in a caravan park even though the extended family were reasonably wealthy.

Surely the protagonist’s rather well-to-do brother could’v’e helped them to buy a small country cottage in the Riverina. Perhaps in leafy Cootamundra with a good school for the children and agricultural work available around the district for a hard working ex-farmer. Surely!

Wouldn’t you help a family member who’d gone broke or would you ship them off to a caravan park?

Cootamundra in the Riverina is a four hour drive west of Sydney

Cootamundra is a gorgeous town in Australia’s Riverina district with a population of around 5,000. Although a functioning town supporting the local farming industry it also has a thriving main street. Good coffee and excellent local food abounds. There’s also a sense of sunny optimism. Just the sort of place to retreat to after losing a financial battle with a national bank.

MainStreetCootamundra

Cootamundra main street with colonial architecture and characterful retail stores

Cootamundra, New South Wales AUSTRALIA

USD$57,000

This two bedroom home in central Cootamundra has good bones and is crying out for an update.

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Ready for a revamp

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Forget the colour of the walls and mantle begging to be removed. The original timber floors are the diamond of this house awaiting a good polish.

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Back yard with a lovely big tree and an easily removed shed

The Cootamundra cottage may be one of the cheapest homes in Australia but I think it has some hidden potential. The facade reminds me of a Cape Cod classic.

Cootamundra Cape Cod

Cape Cod style home

Just the style of house to suit some Florence Broadhurst wallpaper.

I’d take it before I let my family live in a caravan park with heroin addicts. I really would.

Post Script: As I complete this post I note the Cootamundra house has gone under offer.

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A Truly Marvelous Erection

Water tower 1

Welcome to Chateau d’eau in France

You’re not experiencing de-ja-vous. This abode was indeed featured in my last post (as a mystery location quiz, I asked readers where in Europe this weekend home is located).

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Did you guess France?

Only 4% guessed France while most readers favoured Bulgaria, Croatia or Germany. I’m not surprised either, the water tower does have an Eastern Block feel to the facade. The interior though is bright and breezy. The location – on St Pardoux lake – couldn’t be more suited to a weekend home.

lac de saint pardoux2

St Pardoux is a lake side village in central France with family friendly beaches and endless outdoor sport potential

French Legget Agent

The agent describes the water tower as a “truly magnificent erection” and I tend to agree (and who can argue with a man in a jaunty hat?)

Here’s how the agent Michael Boucnik describes Chateau d’eau.

St Pardoux, Limousin, Haute Vienne FRANCE

USD$133,000

AS SEEN ON T.V Chateau d’eau in a forest with magnificent views over the lake, walk to the beach, windsurf, swim & sail.

Water tower 5

Room with a view of Lac St Pardoux

Unique French designers take on a water tower. Truly a grand design. Would suit healthy couple looking for something different. There’s bags of potential to add your own stamp on the inside and the outside. There’s planning permission for a structure outside. Enjoy all the benefits of St. Pardoux.

Water tower 6

Incredible internal staircase designed for a “healthy couple”

The area around Lac St. Pardoux has everything for lovers of the outdoors; hiking, horse riding, mountain biking, windsurfing, canoeing, fishing and wonderful walks. There are plans to make a water park here in the future. St. Pardoux is host to an array of festivals in the summer.

Water tower 2

Clever curved kitchen

There are also great cafes, bars and restaurants in the area. Limoges is only 25 minutes away with Limoges airport being just over half an hour away. A truly marvelous erection! 

Click here to see the video tour

It truly is marvelous.

I’ll take it!

 

A Weekend Home Quiz

Water tower 1

A magnificent – monolith like – tower abode.

There are times when I come across a weekend home so unconventional, so interesting and so challenging I lean back in my chair and can do nothing but marvel at what the world has to offer. To then discover this lovely vision of quirkiness is so close to my budget of USD$100,000, I can barely contain my enthusiasm.

I wonder if you can guess where it is?

This concrete water tower is just the unusual sort of weekend home I’m looking for regardless of its location. Lush surroundings, close to water side picnic spots, low maintenance (concrete tends to be) and undoubtedly a talking point. Even better, the interior belies its grim facade with a light and airy bedroom, functional kitchen, renovated bathroom and stunning solid wood stair case. It’s also absolutely move-in ready.

Guess the location

USD$133,000

Water tower 6

Impressive bespoke solid timber staircase provides the internal wow factor

Water tower 5

A room with a view? Oh yes please

Water tower 3

An airy bedroom to take in the crisp, clean  air

Water tower 2

A small but well formed kitchen, perfect for preparing appropriately light meals

Water tower 7

And the view? Lush, watery and exotic. I can almost feel the summer heat permeating the woodland. Could you want for anything more?

Answer the quiz anonymously here or leave me a comment if you’re feeling brave!

(Thanks for playing. The very few Francophiles among you were spot on. It’s located in France)

Just Smile and Wave Boys

When I overheard my three year old son bellow “WAKE UP YOU FILTHY MONKEY” to our languid cat this morning, it became patently clear.

We’ve been watching too much Madagascar.

Madagascar3

Alex, Marty, Melmen, Gloria 2005’s Madagascar

I’m not at all surprised to find though Madagascar was released nearly a decade ago, it continues to make money hand over fist. Since there are 130 million children turning three each year the market is continuously flooded with eager eyes and parents eager to please. Madagascar’s creator’s DreamWorks (AKA CashWorks) say the film has grossed USD$500 million and fortunately for company shareholders, the film’s profit making potential shows no signs of abating.

There are also a further two Madagascar films (not as good as the original of course) as well as Madagascar 4 in development. The spin off Penguins of Madagascar will be released in November 2014. So there will be five mega money making Madagascar movies and must have promotional toys relieving me of my money by the year’s end.

You know where I’ll be in November.

So I’m bravely taking my head out of the sand to accept we have been watching excessive Madagascar. Now I need to take some sort of action. Obviously I could turn the TV off indefinitely (but I’m not known for masochism) or I could encourage him to watch something more cerebral like Discovery Channel or heuristic like Cebeebies.

The child in me however thinks we should fully embrace his obsession for the African island itself and find a weekend home there.

Live it and watch it.

Madagascar_620

An island just like San Diego Zoo?

I usually pride myself on my Geographical prowess but I confess Madagascar – the country – is a bit of a mystery to me. I loosely thought it was a small island located in the southern Indian Ocean, just over a narrow strait from Mozambique.

To my surprise Madagascar is actually an eye watering 1600 kilometres from mainland Africa. More than three times the width of the English Channel. It follows there are no ferries from Mozambique to the island, so we will have to fly in and out. Luckily there are 11 airlines connecting Madagascar to 23 cities, 160 times per week.

As for being a small island, Madagascar is shockingly vast. Almost as big as mainland France. Since it takes ten hours to drive from Calais to Marseille, then Madagascar must be very large indeed.

Needless to say Madagascar has unparalleled natural diversity. It is also a WTO Least Developed Country so as visitors we will be sure to tread ever-so-lightly to minimise both our environmental and cultural footprints.

I guess that means we won’t be roasting freshly hunted wildlife on a spit while we sit on a beach drinking Bourbon and Redbull. (Not that I would do that. Really)

Madagascar map

Mad-a-who?

Madagascar2

Aerial photography gives me the heebiejeebies

Madagascar, Eastern coast, Sainte Marie Island (Nosy Boraha), the pass to the small island of ile aux nattes

The fun side of the island?

Fort Veyron, Madagascar

USD$88,000 

This little cottage in central Madagascar instantly appeals. It is easy to see its French colonial influence and it wouldn’t look out of place in Languedoc-Roussillon. Perhaps with the addition of cornflower blue shutters.

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This place is crackalackn’!

Once again utilising my ‘school girl’ French, this house has two bedrooms, panoramic views from the terrace and balcony and a separate garage. The kitchen is in need of an update (it’s currently mint green and pink) but nothing a DIY’er couldn’t handle.

Its location is stellar. Fort Veyron is within sea-water-spitting distance from Antananarivo Airport and a few kilometres from the town’s University. Rental potential in the off season is assured.

But the really special feature of this cottage is its quirky and endlessly humorous fireplace.

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Stare at the fireplace for ten seconds. Focus! What do you see?

Melmen

The resemblance is uncanny

The ‘Melmen the Giraffe’ fireplace totally sold it for me and I know my son would go completely Foosa for it.

I’d like to take it, I really would.

I just need to check out Radiator Springs and Sodor Island first.

The One About Sluts, Surveys and Soft-Spots

Cast of FRIENDS, photograph by Annie Leibovitz

How I miss the cast of FRIENDS (Ross, Phoebe, Rachel, Chandler, Monica and “ladies’ man” Joey). Photograph Annie Leibovitz

When the pilot of FRIENDS was filmed twenty years ago, panicked NBC executives descended on its Burbank studio to express a rather disturbing concern to co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane. NBC regarded the character Monica (played so deliciously by Courtney Cox) a little too, well, slutty for American TV audiences.

Kauffman and Crane disagreed fervently and as a compromise allowed the pilot audience to be surveyed. NBC staffers then handed out cards to each audience member inquiring if they found the Monica – sleeping with someone on the first date – story line offensive. According to the finale interview with Matt Lauer, the questionnaire started something like this:

Do you think Monica – for sleeping with a man on the first date – is:

A) a whore

B) a slut

C) a tramp

D) your dream date

Nice.

Curiously NBC was soothed by the result. Monica’s – bizarrely and unnecessarily slut shamed – character was subsequently allowed to proceed unchanged and unchained.

All this before the second episode was in the can.

Joey was a ‘ladies man’ and Monica was a ‘slut’? Has much changed in 20 years?

Even though I remain an utterly devoted FRIENDS enthusiast, I continue to be annoyed by that disclosure for several reasons.

First, the character Joey “How You Doin” Tribbiani had regular one night stands. Even when we could’t see him having one we could assume that he was, just somewhere else. How peculiar network executives weren’t scared of Joey.

Second, the survey was so biased and skewed toward heterosexual men that it was hardly a valid question at all. How would a gay man respond to it? Women of any sexual preference? If I was in the audience that auspicious day I would’ve been highly offended by the question rather Monica’s perceived promiscuity.

Third, Monica was so much more than just her love-life. She was absolutely a feminist, a professional chef navigating the NYC culinary boys club, a nurturer who generously encouraged her friends to use her home like a hotel, a highly organised organiser and confident confidant. Monica also liked to win, particularly when she was competing against herself.

She was also the character I most connected with.

monica

Monica cleans her vacuum with a vacuum. Like it or not she did everything with pride, conviction and engaging physical humour.

Monica and I shared many things, including our love of Chandler. Chandler was definitely my FRIENDS crush, sweater vest and all (Joey could be a little too vague and Ross liked dinosaurs). To me Chandler was intelligent, handsome and endlessly witty. He was also proud of Monica’s feminist viewpoint which of course makes him ever so manly.

Friends 3

The One with Ross’ Tan. “I’m an eight?”

Chandler was my soft spot, particularly in the latter seasons.

So when I came across this private island you’ll understand I couldn’t resist considering it for a weekend home.

Chandler Island

Maine, USA

USD$39,999

Much like the character, Chandler Island is an intriguing and quirky prospect off the coast of Maine, USA.

Maine itself is located across the Bay of Fundy from Nova Scotia (Anne of Green Gables). It’s known for bountiful lobsters, picturesque New England villages and rugged outdoor activities. Maine certainly is for the adventurous (code for deck yourself out in The North Face gear).

Maine borders Canada on the east coast

Maine borders Canada on the east coast

maine-tourism

Sunny summers and winters requiring woolly sweaters and wellies

The realtor describes the island as thus.

Located in picturesque Wohoa Bay, Maine, 30 miles east of Acadia National Park, 70 miles southeast from Bangor and 230 boat miles northeast of Boston MA is quaint Chandler Island. It is one of the smaller Maine islands at “an acre more or less” (according to the deed). Which means at low tide it is a lot more, while the high tide area is only about half an acre: the size of an average suburban yard. The island is nestled protected in the bay, but does have line-of-sight of the open ocean. The island can be reached by boat at all times, docking between main and sandy- beach island, and even by foot at very low tide, when the water is only waist-deep.

First let me say half an acre of above-tide-land is much larger than average suburban yards where I come from. Half an acre is large enough for at least 6 tennis courts and I can’t help but wonder where the realtor lives if she thinks that is an average size yard.

Maine perhaps?

A private island called Chandler? Oh yes please!

A private island called Chandler? Oh yes please!

Chandler 2.2

Chandler island is bigger than it looks

There’s no reason – with a little elbow grease – Chandler Island couldn’t end up looking like Beldon Island, Connecticut below, is there?

Chandler 1.3

Beldon Island, CT is for sale through Sotherby’s for USD$3,950,000

Chandler 1.2

If you don’t fly your own flag who will?

So we’ll need a petite cape style cottage and some landscaping. Perhaps a wooden jetty and some sand to build a small beach. The house and landscaping will have to cost less than $60,000 if we’re to stay in budget, so we may have to think teeny tiny. This Tumbleweed Loring Cottage may just be the ticket and since Tumbleweed are the pioneers of the – much publicised – Tiny House Movement, we know it will be highly functional. And oh so cute.

Tumbleweed 1

The Tumbleweed Loring cottage may just come in budget and isn’t it divine?

Tumbleweed 2

Just adorable! All we need on our private island.

Sure it will be a lot of work developing this one.

But if I really am like Monica then it’s my destiny to fix a Chandler don’t you think?

I don’t care that it’s ridiculous. I’ll take it.

(Before some outrageously intrepid Kayakers beat me to it.)

Attention Serial Killers!*

Do I have a weekend home for you!

This distressingly private, five room, naturally rammed earth hole may be just the hideaway you’ve been looking for. It has power, water and remarkably generous dimensions. Altogether impervious and sound-proof, this cave house is also completely unrenovated; humbly begging you to add your elegantly pathological touch.

Conveniently isolated and psychologically gratifying all at once. What more could you ask?

Use your killer instincts to guess the location

USD$56,000

Cave 3

Shady and Discreet. A drive though entrance for covert deliveries

Cave 9

Invisible to FBI satellite surveillance with potential for a niche and enticing Airbnb listing

Cave 1.6

Open concept living room or hedonistic crime scene? You decide

Cave 4

Was someone shot here already? Why do the spatters only start halfway up the wall? Is that red blob on the floor a piece of flesh?

Cave 1.7

Where on Earth do you think it is? Could it be in the Atacama Desert or Death Valley, California? Perhaps the Sub Sahara or one of the scary Stans?

Cave 1.4

Star Wars fans may think it’s near Onk Jmel, Tunisia. Lawrence of Arabia aficionados will think it’s Ait Benhaddou, Morocco. Alas it’s neither.

This dug-out house is in the outback Australian “town” of Coober Pedy**.

It really is a house and it really is for sale.

I’ll let you have this one. I hope you make a killing.

*I’m kidding. Sort of.

**Coober Pedy is a 22 hour drive from my home. Paris is a 22 hour flight. (Il n’ya pas de concours) 


			

The Sloe Lane

The Alabama Slammer with sloe gin

Who could resist this cocktail of sloe gin, amaretto, Southern Comfort with a twist?

I’ll confess straight up I’ve had a busy week and – as anyone who lives in the countryside can likely empathise – I have done an extravagant amount of driving. Between airport drop offs, grocery runs and other far flung commitments, I’ve driven almost 800 kilometres. All in a matter of days. And I haven’t really gone anywhere.

After extensive Googling I’ve decided to accept there are no luxurious rehab centres in exotic climes for sufferers of Extreme Driver Fatigue. (Please God, inspire someone to invent one, preferably overlooking the Andaman Sea)

So there’s nothing else to do but to hide the car key and fix myself an inspiring cocktail. Not my usual Pimms either. I feel like I need to get sloe down.

Alabama Slammer 

15 ml (1/2 oz) sloe gin 
30 ml (1 oz) amaretto
30 ml (1 oz) Southern Comfort
Dash of lemon juice

As I sip my drink (to slam would be to waste) I realise rather quickly I need a porch to go with my drink. And perhaps a swing chair, balmy heat and some southern hospitality.

Alabama

Alabama may be the perfect location for a weekend home. Beaches and BBQ sound good to me.

It would be easy to talk in cliched tones about Alabama – sass about hillbillies, pick ups and Confederate flags – but I’m not buying into that narrow vision. Not when this classic song swirls in my mind as I take another sip of my cocktail.

Alabama may just be everything good about the south. Charismatic music, poignant civil rights and indigenous historical sites, pristine beaches on the Gulf, comforting cuisine and heat. Serious heat. All things that pique my curiosity particularly when here it’s six degrees outside tonight.

Marion AL, USA

USD$110,000

When I happened upon this house I couldn’t believe my eyes. So close to my USD$100,000 budget and so utterly beautiful it took my breath away. I know it may be too expansive to be a low maintenance weekend home but, well, I don’t really care.

Circa 1840 the house is – quite rightly – on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a L-shaped two-story home on nearly two acres. Four bedrooms, two baths, ten foot ceilings, plaster medallions, heart pine floors, new kitchen (which I’d probably paint), fenced dog yard (we country folk like those), detached office (hello craft room!) and garage (for the enormous ‘pick up’ I simply must have).

Alabama 5.2

Perfect symmetry, pillars and to-die-for black shutters. Stunning

Alabama 5.4

Delightful grounds

Alabama 5.5

Two words. White. Paint.

Alabama 5.3

A quick polish of the floors and I’m moving in. The wallpaper? If it’s in good condition, it stays, I love it

 

Citronelle AL, USA

USD$58,500

This gem is a little smaller and so is the price tag. Once again perfectly symmetrical, glistening white and with undeniably stylish black shutters.

It has nearly two acres of garden and four floors including a basement and attic. I am gobsmacked.

Alabama 2.1

Three bedrooms and three bathrooms on 1.8 acres of parkland like garden

Alabama 2.2

Lovely original features

Alabama Southern Living

Could be transformed to look like this without much fuss

Mobile Al, USA

USD$50,000 – $100,000(Auction)

This rather large 3,100 square foot family home has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Since it will go to auction it’s hard to pin point the exact price.

This gorgeous pile has such huge potential I can barely contain myself. Other houses on this historic street sell for triple the price range. Though the other houses on the street probably aren’t in the same state of disrepair. This poor old dame has been trashed, I suspect by the previous occupants.

Alabama 3.1

A southern classic

Alabama 3.2

I’ve lived in worse, I really have

Alabama 7.1

This glorious southern belle is also on Dauphin Street and is for sale for $399,000

I’d be happy in any of these weekend homes but I’d have to ship my entire family out to Alabama to be with me.

So I’ll take all three.

A World Cup Weekend Home?

Fifa-World-Cup-2014-Brazil-Wallpaper

In case you didn’t know, the finals are here!

The 2014 FIFA World Cup final – between powerhouses Argentina and Germany – is finally upon us. The forthcoming finale makes me feel quite jolly. I like football, I really do. It’s just that I’m terribly tired of commercial network news programs peppering us with unimaginative images of beautiful, hairless people slinking along Impanema or Copacobana under the guise of ‘reporting live from Brazil’. It’s driving me crazy. (I confess a small part of me wondered if a TV network executive was responsible for the gunshots fired at Copacobana this week so yet more beach scenes could be broadcast.)

Who knew Brazil was only a sandy knoll – populated by bare bottoms – on the Atlantic?

I’ve also been praying furiously to the God of Fashion – Anna Wintour – Brazilian swimwear doesn’t catch on like the torturous Brazillian itself. Actually, if I’m going to be honest, I really was hoping the ‘skort‘ would come back in fashion. Perhaps retro skirted swimsuits. Or at least some frilly frills. More lycra not less please Anna. My thirty something bottom needs at least partial housing; it’s laissez faire rather than derriere extraordinaire.

I’m all for women wearing whatever they like. But really, I just can’t chase a three year old around looking like this.

Brazil Beach Photo Getty

Less of this

Kenneth Cole Swimsuit

More of this! (Elegant frills without the spills)

Yes, I know what most men reading this post are thinking. More of that, less of this!

OK, until you all look like this guy I recommend you be cautious where you toss your stones in your proverbial glasshouses. Though, if you looked like this guy, I’m not sure you’re interested in women’s swimwear at all. You’d likely favour fitness over fashion.

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Touche?

Oh dear God, let me move on.

So anyway, I decided to have a weekend home ‘world cup’ this week and let the football final decide where we look for an abode.

Suffering for my art, I woke up obscenely early on Monday morning to watch Brazil and Germany fight it out live. If you missed it, the first 15 minutes were fairly energetic, then Germany scored a staggering four goals in six minutes. Brazil suffered what we call  “plot loss”. By two thirds of the way through the first half Brazilians in the crowd were crying, some were praying (perhaps to Anna Wintour?).

Stop it. Please.

Stop it. Please.

The suffering continued early Wednesday morning. Argentina and the Netherlands failed to score until a penalty shoot out, after extra time. Possibly the most defensive, cautious and dull game of this World Cup. As I watched, I wished I was sleeping. At some points I may have been.

So let’s start our search for a weekend home in Germany. Brace yourself. Unlike many European countries, the German realty market is strong; knock-your-socks-off expensive.

Exclusive Baden Baden – on the edge of the magnificent Black Forest – is south of Frankfurt and just over the Rhine from France. So overwhelmingly stylish is this town I think if James Bond was into spas, this would be the destination for him. A glamorous casino, baths with Victorian splendor and a mix of summer and snow adventure sports. Although you’d need to head to the Alps for serious skiing, Baden Baden is close to several ski resorts including Baiersbronn (8 lifts, cross country trails and endless James Bond cello-case-tobogganing potential).

The idea of a weekend home in the centre of Western Europe really appeals to me. As well as having the option of sunny summers and white Christmas’. Baden Baden isn’t cheap cheap though. In fact we won’t get anything for our USD$100,000 budget in one of the prettiest towns in Europe. So we’ll search close by.

Baden Baden

Baden Baden is an hour and a half drive south of Frankfurt and four hours east of Paris

Baden-Baden-Germany-Spa-Vacation

Relax, you’re in Baden Baden

Dreaming of a white Christmas?

Dreaming of a white Christmas?

Baden Baden, Weststadt, Germany

USD$162,000

Clearly. I’m over budget. But since the interest rates are so reasonable in Europe (thanks Angela Merkel) we may be able to stretch a little. This is the only accommodation I could find near the town for under USD$275,000.

This – ready to update – two bedroom apartment is close to the spa and cuckoo-clock action. And it’s as lovely as a Black Forest Gateau.

Baden 1.1

Sunny Baden Baden Yellow exterior

Baden 1.2

And a sunny Baden Baden Yellow interior

Baden 1.3

The sunny Baden Baden Yellow continues on the terrace

Will I take it? Let’s let the final decide.

We cant forget precioso Argentina. So let’s head south to Mar del Plata. The busy beach paradise is a four hour drive south of Buenos Aires. Once a fishing village, today it is a stylish seaside mega-resort. Before you scoff at the idea, consider there is so much to do in Mar del Plata you’ll never tire of it. Like Baden Baden, it has spas and a casino. But it also has the added benefit of heat, endless beaches and endless family activities. Not to mention Argentinian food. Si por favor!

Aar

Mar Del Plata is a four hour drive south of Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires

It's a little popular

It’s main beach can be popular on public holidays and high summer

Colourful fishing boats at the marina

Colourful fishing boats at the marina

Mar del Plata, Argentina

USD$138,500

I absolutely adore this two bedroom townhouse in Pompeya Mar del Plata. It’s reasonably new but I think it has an adorable character. I love the kitchen, the floors even the grill. What a lovely retreat from the crowds.

mar del plata 1.1

Oh yes, I could cook up an Argentinian storm on that grill

Mar del Plata 1.2

A few streets from the beach

mar del plata 1.3

A blank canvas

Will I take it? Let’s let the final decide of course.

I think if Germany can be as strong, skilled and structured as its real estate market, they will win. Just.

Deutschland gehen!
(And they did win. Just. Wasn’t it incredible?)

The Googly

There are peculiarities, peculiar to peculiar countries that others find, well, peculiar.

Australian Vegemite, Khmer fried spiders, Scottish Haggis, American Rocky Mountain Oysters et al. Unless you’re raised on such delicacies, it’s fair to say you’re unlikely to acquire the taste. (Except perhaps for the fried spiders, which actually taste like crispy fried chicken skin, who doesn’t like that?)

This is also true of cricket. You can’t learn to like cricket, you have to be born to like it. Nature trumps nurture.

Used_cricket_ball

Cricket is not an acquired taste

Predictably, if you ask an American about cricket, the responses range from the quaint “it’s so adorably British but I don’t understand it” to the downright off base “it’s like a four day game of baseball, who has the time?” It’s not their fault of course and I don’t intend to cause offence. They were born to connect with ‘World Series Baseball’ and ‘World Series NBA’. Neither of which involve anything to do with the ‘world’ at all. Neither of which I like either.

The phenomenon is absolutely mutual. It can be applied infinitely. Canadian NHL ice hockey, Thai Kickboxing, Chinese Ping-Pong and Estonian Naisekandmine. You get my drift.

One of the delightful aspects about writing about cricket is I know the readers of this post are all cricket enthusiasts.

Everyone else stopped reading two paragraphs ago.

Sometimes I read sports news articles about cricket that explain the basics of a dead ball ruling or where silly mid on is compared to short leg and ponder why the writer bothers. Anyone who doesn’t know cricket, doesn’t read about cricket. It’s a fairly simple universal truth don’t you think? (It could also be that writers just like talking about ‘silly mid on’. That is also universally true.)

So, hello cricket devotees. It’s just us now. This is safe space to be your – cricket loving – self.

I’m a proud product of 1980’s cricket. An era that saw my – mustache growing and always weirdly sweaty – heroes painstakingly gathering momentum to begin a new era of Australian dominance by the decade’s end. In fact I really didn’t know Australia could lose the Ashes until I was all grown up. It was quite a shock, let me tell you. I still associate Ricky Ponting with feelings of helpless despair.

Naturally, I grew up watching Kerry Packer’s colourful World Series Cup ‘one dayers’. A world series that actually involved the world. The relevant parts anyway. David Boon, Alan Border, Merv Hughes and Steve Waugh were setting exciting benchmarks (both in cricket and in beer consumption). And Kapil Dev, Courtney Walsh, Ian Botham were famously formidable opponents. All resplendent in weighty gold neck chains.

Thames Cricket 1986

Australian – World Series Cup – team in green and gold in 1986

We also played endless backyard cricket. My father spent hours trying to teach my sister and I bowling techniques. The basics. Pace. Swing. Spin. Then the miraculous Googly and the great – equally perplexing – Doosra. (Even today I wonder if ‘The Doosra’ is my dad’s favourite saying, it comes up very frequently.) All lessons I hope to inflict on my son with the aid of Youtube tutorials from – the greatest leg spinner of all time – Shane Warne and perhaps some batting advice from the endlessly captivating Sachin Tendulkar (my two cricket soft spots).

So it follows that my favourite film of the 1980’s features cricket nostalgia. Oscar nominated Hope and Glory (1987) is John Borman’s memoir about a great war, an English river and cricket. If you’ve ever swooned over cricket, and I know you have, then this is the movie for you (rent it on Itunes for $3.99).

Of particular poignance is the scene where the protagonist Billy is preparing for his father to depart to serve in the army in World War II. As they play cricket in the yard Billy’s father Clive pulls him close in a tender embrace, separated only by a battered red leather cricket ball.

“Billy, before I go there’s something I want to tell you. You’re not quite old enough, but, well it’s the Googly. Your hand is too small to master it, but you can make a start.”

We – the viewers –  are then blessed with a captivating and romantic description of the power of the Googly. “It looks like an off break, but it’s really an leg break.” We witness Billy’s most important moment with his father. Decades after first seeing the film I still remember the scene with utter reverence.

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Billy’s dad explains the Googly

As the film draws to a close, Billy’s father returns from his post to find the family house in London is no more and the family have relocated to Grandpa George’s house on the Thames. And little Billy has indeed mastered the Googly.

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Grace – Billy’s mother – raises her glass to the Thames and says “I never want to leave the river again” at the end of Hope and Glory.

The family are so taken with living by the Thames they vow never to return to the city. “To the river” they cry as they raise their glasses. For that scene alone, I’ve always wanted to spend a summer by the western Thames either in Berks, Bucks, Oxford or Surrey. Perhaps even buy a weekend home there.

Thames Map

Hope and Glory’s Thames scenes were filmed 5 km west of Kingston on Thames at Shepperton Lock, Surrey

I’m very drawn to buying weekend home on the river itself. Needless to say an absolute riverfront house is out-of-my-league. So I’m leaning toward something a little more unorthodox.

A narrowboat perhaps.

A traditional English narrowboat is no more than 7 feet wide and 70 feet long. Although that means living on a small scale (oh yes please), it ensures we can zip up and down those lovely – overflowing with history – canals in England’s southwest.

Yes, I know there will be mooring costs of around USD$5000 per annum to incorporate into my budget. That sounds quite reasonable to me, considering we will be so close to London.

I have to wonder if I will be able to dock my narrowboat at London’s Vauxhall Bridge and wonder up Park Lane to Lord’s Cricket Ground? Or perhaps a ‘visitors mooring’ at London Docklands and tube ride on the Jubilee Line to St Johns Wood? Sounds perfectly plausible to take my weekend home to the Ashes rather than commute don’t you think?

Goring-on-Thames

Berkshire, UK

USD$113,000

Thames Boat 1.1

The Maisie, 55 feet of British navy blue loveliness

Thames boat 1.2

The double bedroom, bath and living area will need a spruce up. Some additional berths are essential. I do like that charming wood burner though!

Maisie Maisie, how do I love thee? Let me count the waves (awful sonnet butchering I know, I can’t help it). I’ll take it.

Thames & Kennet Marina

Berkshire, UK

USD$60,000

Thames Boat 2.1

Built in 2003, the 57ft Elwood II has one double bedroom, bath and functional kitchen

Thames Boat 2.2

Break out the lime wash!

See you at the Ashes! I’ll take it.

The interior of my narrowboat would be deciededly muted. Just like this visionary Otters Boat Hire boat in – Old Trafford land – Lancashire.

Thames Aga 2

Taupe tones expand and lighten the space

Thames Aga

A mini Aga? Oh yes please

Thames Kelly Hoppen

Cap that off with a splash of Kelly Hoppen luxury and we’d have the perfect narrowboat

I’d really like my narrowboat on the Thames to have a neutral and modern feel with some courageous splashes of London glamour. It would suprise and belie it’s traditional external appearance. Not at all what you’d expect.

Just like a Googly.

Sigueme el Corriente…

Anthony Bourdain has huevos. That’s for sure.

The erudite New York City chef and – self confessed – former drug addict is now arguably the food and travel multimedia powerhouse of our time.

The fearless provocateur peppers acerbic musings throughout his TV series, books and columns with enviable ease.  Maxims to make me slap my thigh with gleeful approval; “Vegetarians and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans … are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit” or “as a chef I’m not your dietitian or your ethicist, I’m in the pleasure business” and my favourite, “your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”

And he won’t pause after such quips and stare down the camera – for effect – daring you to respond. He moves on. He doesn’t really care what you think.

It takes courage to be that cool.

It takes courage to be this cool

Anthony Bourdain, whats not to respect?

Anthony Bourdain is also an insightul social commentator. Just read this superb post on Mexico.

Under The Volcano – Anthony Bourdain May 2014

Americans love Mexican food. We consume nachos, tacos, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, tamales and anything resembling Mexican in enormous quantities. We love Mexican beverages, happily knocking back huge amounts of tequila, mezcal and Mexican beer every year. We love Mexican people—as we sure employ a lot of them. Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, look after our children. As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy—the restaurant business as we know it—in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are “stealing American jobs”. But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position—or even a job as prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, provably, simply won’t do. 

We love Mexican drugs. Maybe not you personally, but “we”, as a nation, certainly consume titanic amounts of them—and go to extraordinary lengths and expense to acquire them. We love Mexican music, Mexican beaches, Mexican architecture, interior design, Mexican films.

So, why don’t we love Mexico? … READ MORE… (It’s definitely worth it)

A brilliant piece don’t you think?

Of further interest to me is that Bourdain omits a glaring parallel; that Mexico could be rather like Bourdain himself. The once seemingly corruptible drug addict, searching for global salvation as a preeminent food and travel icon?

Does that not also describe Mexico in many ways too?

Put simply, Bourdain’s redemption and his elevation to American – phoenix like – hero is just the sort of development strategy Mexico could implement to guarantee its renewal and perhaps a new position in the modern world. A cleanse and purge rehab then to emerge as a world class – safe and eco friendly – travel destination, sans the cartels.

I can’t think of anywhere more exciting to look for a weekend home.

Cancun, Mexico

Cancun, Mexico

Cancun is on the eastern side of Mexico and considered a gateway to the Caribbean. It may not be the edgiest destination in Mexico – towns like Cabo San Lucas on Baja are just too expensive – but it has everything we need for a weekend home. An international airport, historical sites, art and culture, beaches, heat and to die for food. And it’s entirely, overwhelmingly beautiful.

Cancun Peninsula

Cancun Peninsula, best avoided during American ‘Spring Break’

Snorkel around the sculptural installataions in Cancun’s Underwater Museum

Snorkel around the sculptural installations in Cancun’s Underwater Museum

Mayan ruins to explore near Cancun

Mayan ruins to explore near Cancun

 Cancun, Mexico

USD$116,000

This two bedroom delight is but blocks from the beach. Can you believe it?

Cancun 2.1

Una casa hermosa

Cancun 2.2

Fabulous brick patterned ceiling

Cancun 2.3

Love the staircase and curved plaster work

For the character-full ceiling alone, I’ll take it.

Cancun, Mexico

USD$94,000

Yes I know. Bourdain wouldn’t go for this beach front condo because it’s too cookie cutter. But he’s lugged his small daughter around New York enough to know that if the children are happy, the parents are happy. My three year old would live in the water slide playground below if I let him.

And since this condo is only one bedroom, I may have to let him.

Cancun 3.1

Oh yes please

Cancun 3.2

Apartamento muy pequeño? Tiny!

Cancun 3.3

Waterpark within complex

I think Bourdain would understand if I go with the condo with a dedicated children’s area.

OK, that’s a long shot.

I’ll take it nonetheless.

See Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations in Mexico here.