A Christmas cynic reborn


A bit like Russell Brand, I’ve never really liked Christmas. I’ve never subscribed to enforced happiness, scheduled smiling or jingoistic joviality. But this year will be different because life is different.

Now I recognise this un-holiday-like demeanour might have something to do with my parents breaking up one Christmas Day when I was five. Or my mother’s insistence that Christmas Day has never been that much fun since her own mother died in 1986 when I was 13 years old.

It probably also doesn’t help that being a non-mother, and having a brother who is an un-father, our Christmas Days in Brisbane generally don’t involve lots of smiley, manic children. No, they generally involve lots of vodka and a desire for the day to be over.

This year, especially, there seems little to celebrate and I’m sure I’m not the only person who is more than ready to say a big fat sayonara to 2012 in less than two weeks’ time.

Although, to not sound like too much of a killjoy, there have been a number of happy events this year, such as the fact that I somehow managed to reach 40 and my seismic attitude-shift when it comes to men and to love, but there has also been some, well, some serious shit take place.

As the year has progressed, there have been more and more instances of relationships coming to an end. Now statistically (thanks Australian Bureau of Statistics) I am now firmly in the bracket of median-aged divorces but it still sucks. Indeed, I said to my friend yesterday that we had reached the age of divorce, and of dying parents. She thanked me for being so bloody uplifting and for generally ruining her day.

I don’t know whether it is a blessing or a curse that my singledom has outlasted many of these relationships, which may well go to show that the only person I’ve ever made a long-term commitment too is me. I guess that makes me a bit of a wanker – literally and figuratively.

In fact, perhaps I’ve never been married because a) no one has asked me; b) I’ve got tattoos and I read this week that women with tattoos will never “win” a husband (I didn’t realise it was a competition – another mis-step obviously); c) I don’t have a “putting up with bullshit” gene, something that would’ve have been vital if I’d got hitched to any of my former boyfriends; d) I have exceptionally poor taste in men.

Also, to continue the yuletide joy this year some people I knew decided they didn’t want to be here anymore and I had news (not about me) that would change everything. News which broke my heart, all of our hearts, into tiny pieces.

But such a situation, I learned, makes you realise what is important and what is blatantly not. It makes you reassess your relationships with your family, with your friends and even with your boss. Indeed, it as times like this that you learn who deserves to belong in your life, those people who have been supportive and kind beyond words , and those who you are quite happy to resign to the periphery of it because deep down you knew the relationship was superficial and devoid of any true meaning at all.

It certainly helps to de-clutter your life and your thinking, which surprisingly has been a blessing or perhaps a by-product of a life much changed from just a few months before. But most of all, it makes you realise that one of the greatest loves there will ever be is the one between a mother and her children. And vice versa. I don’t need to be a mother to understand that.

That is why this year, more than any other, I will enjoy Christmas. I will smile and I will laugh and I will enjoy my family and my mum. Life really is too short to do otherwise.

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Truth or dare


I spent nearly 30 years of my life dreaming of being a journalist. Within five years of attaining that goal, I walked away from my dream somewhat disillusioned and dismayed.

I tip-toed across to the dark side of PR, as many ex-hacks are wont to do, but soon found that I slept better than I had for years and that my alcohol intake had decreased quite spectacularly.

No longer did I have to do “death-knocks” on the neighbours of an elderly man bludgeoned to death the previous day to ask them how they felt about the gruesome crime that happened to their decades-old friend; no longer did I have to spend all day with an SES crew while they searched for the body of an ultra-light pilot in dense bushland, knowing I couldn’t go back to the office without a photo of his body, and better yet, his name before even his family knew he was dead; no longer did I have to tweak a story to make it more sensational because I was “lucky” enough for it to be chosen to run on the front page of the paper the next day.

Maybe I am just not made of tough enough stuff to have ever have been a hard-hitting journalist or perhaps, as is often the case, sometimes when you achieve your dream it is not quite what you thought it would be at all. Which, I must admit, was a little depressing.

I always wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to help expose the bad guys and dodgy politicians. I wanted to defend democracy and all that shit, but by the time I got into it, newspapers were no longer run by the hard-drinking newsmen of old. No, they were run by bean-counters whose idea of news was about as pronounced as their personalities.

My speciality was social justice journalism, especially refugees and asylum seekers which was a hot-button issue during the supreme reign of President, er sorry, I mean Prime Minister, the Right Honourable John Howard. I interviewed indigenous Australians and tried to fight the good fight on their behalf via the first pages of history. I spoke with people with disabilities, campaigned through the fourth estate for their work spaces to not be shut down. I landed a story (which went national I must say) about dodgy hospital practices which nearly cost a young mother the life of her unborn baby. The editor used to call me a bleeding heart but most of the time they ran my stories – to a degree.

Soon, however, a new system was installed where each and every page was designed before any stories had even been written. There were holes where stories had to fit, around the advertising. Not the other way around. It didn’t matter that I may have interviewed a Sudanese refugee who told me things he had never actually verbalised before. It didn’t matter that the story was worth at least 50 column centimetres. No, the only space available was 10 centimetres and, so, if I wanted the story to see the light of day I had to chop all the life out of it, which broke my heart and probably his as well.

Journalism wasn’t what I envisaged it to be, and six years later, it has not got any better. The scramble for the most astounding story or the first gory photos of a natural disaster or the live vision of a murdered schoolboy finally laid to rest, may seem distasteful but research shows these are the yarns, the pics and the video that rate the highest, sell the most copies of newsprint, and achieve the highest ratings, which no doubt makes the bean-counters very happy indeed.

As newsrooms get smaller, and the race for a scoop more absurd, perhaps the question needs to be asked: when did one of the basic and most important tenets of any democracy, turn into nothing more than a line on a balance sheet? Indeed, why does truth now have to come at a price?

On one of my first days at university in the 1990s, I learned that journalists needed to be truth-tellers, we needed to be ethical, and we needed to be objective. The news cycle has always made some of these attributes easier to attain than others. Indeed, objectivity is something that is almost impossible to achieve when each and every story has to have an angle.

The decades-old debate about whether the media sets the agenda by publishing questionable stories and images or is just feeding an appetite that is already there is again making the news itself. Maybe it’s time to for all of us to consider whether truth is the most important characteristic of quality journalism, instead of a media diet – both here and overseas – filled with salacious and intimate details about people we will never meet.

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Smile like you mean it


To dentists’ chocolate is the devil incarnate. It causes tooth decay, they say, which will lead to holes in your teeth, then fillings which might get infected, which may lead to an abscessed tooth, which might then turn into the need for a root canal, and then finally a glorious crown (which costs almost the same as a royal crown by the way). To women, when told such ridiculous warnings, all we hear is: blah, blah, bloody, blah.

I have very crap teeth. I also have a very hot dentist. These two factors mean I spend a lot of time at the dentist. Sometimes out of necessity. Sometimes not. At the behest of my beautiful dentist, in a few months time, I will be getting braces. At 40. If he’d recommended I try to grow another set of eyeballs I’d probably give that a go too.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned “chocolate equals teeth death” warning came spectacularly true for me on Saturday night. You see part of the many reasons for my impending metal-mouth torture is that I’ve always had bad teeth – not crooked as such – but not enough room for all them I suppose. It doesn’t help that I have a tendency to grind them in my sleep while I gnaw my way through the day’s events and several layers of tooth enamel apparently.

Coupled with other activities in my youth, by the time I was in my early 30s, my front teeth were about half the height that they should’ve been. Obviously not a good look so I got veneers, which six years later have cracked and are mere months away from breaking altogether. I don’t think such an eventuality will help me secure a date – although, of course, being toothless might have its advantages in some situations. But I digress.

On Saturday night, as a babysat my godson, I raided the fridge (as all decent babysitters do especially when they have to buy their own dinner as well) and I found a square of deep, dark, beatific chocolate. I heard it softly calling my name and I did not have the will power to resist its sweet “eat me Nicola” song. Also, when it came down to it, I was babysitting on a Saturday night. How bloody saintly is that? So, after checking my godson (who is nearly two and was fast asleep) was still breathing for about the 55th time in two hours, I ever-so-gently removed the chocolate from the fridge with a slightly evil, yet ultimately satisfied, smile.

I unwrapped it carefully, marvelling at its cocoa-perfection and lifted it towards my half-open lips (sounds like a sexy chocolate ad doesn’t it?). I took one bite and quickly realised, a little too late I might add, that dark chocolate that has been in the fridge for a number of months is actually quite hard. But continue biting I did, with quite some force, and I soon was rewarded with an explosion of flavour in my mouth. And then some weird crunchy bits.

Not to be deterred, I continued to munch on the rich goodness while simultaneously checking the wrapper to see whether it also contained any peanuts, almonds, or any type of nut at all. The answer was no (unlike this blog). Slowly, dreadfully, a rather distasteful realisation dawned on me. Those crunchy bits in my mouth were not nuts, of any kind, no they were part of my tooth. My front tooth.

I ran to the bathroom, spat out the chocolate/front tooth mix (a new flavour for Cadbury perhaps?) and with fear in my heart and mouth – boom boom – looked in the mirror. A chocolatey-row of reasonably intact teeth grimaced back at me. I leaned into the mirror and looked more closely. As I suspected, and my tongue had already told me, part of my front tooth had splintered off – but it was a top layer of the vaneer, not a chunk off the bottom, which was some miniscule consolation.

My spirits lifted immediately. Not only would I not have to resemble a Halloween pumpkin for the rest of the weekend, but on Monday morning I would have to make an emergency visit to my dentist so he could pop his instruments into my mouth once more.

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