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.

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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.

A Truly Marvelous Erection

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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Impressive bespoke solid timber staircase provides the internal wow factor

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A room with a view? Oh yes please

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An airy bedroom to take in the crisp, clean  air

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

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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?

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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

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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?

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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?

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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)