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Silver Lining for Mature-Aged Swans

Just when I thought my dancing days were dead and buried, along comes my ballet teacher friend to invite me to a mature-aged ballet class. Silver Swans, to be precise.

Not dying swans, note, but Silver Swans. Swans past their prime as it were—swans who perhaps missed their balletic boat and now want another crack at it. I jokingly asked if I could wear a tutu or pink tights and leotard, but my friend assured me that the dress code was comfortable exercise gear. My Lululemons and Kmart t-shirt would suffice. There was clearly more stretching than staggering ‘en pointe’. 

I invited my tall, slim and slightly Margot Fonteyn-ish friend to come along for support, although she warned she was ‘lomp’ which is the English equivalent of clumsy. I was secretly delighted that someone would be slightly less coordinated than me. It’s always good to be accompanied to any new exercise class by someone who has even a vague inclination to fall over.

That said, my own dancing prowess was, quite frankly, questionable. My last foray into formal classes was way back in high school when ‘modern dance’ was all the rage. The sole dance teacher in our country town was the raven-haired and off-the-scale vivacious Morag de Souza. So magnetic was she that we all wanted to be just like her when we grew up. 

Mrs de Souza, as she was known, taught every genre from ballet to Highland Dance, which, together with ‘modern dance’, I briefly embraced. My Scottish fling ended badly at our end of year performance in the local country school hall. I was teamed up with my more proficient Highland dancing and childhood friend Bridget, and the two of us were to perform the sword dance at opposite ends of the sword. We were centre stage because of her competence, not mine. Blame it on stage fright or pure lack of co-ords, but I negotiated the sword the wrong way around and tumbled into her mid-flight. The audience thought it rather funny, but Bridget was understandably incensed. I’m sure she’s forgiven me by now, but back then, it was traumatic. So much so that I hung up my kilt (having fallen on said sword) for good. There was slightly more hope with modern dance but ballet? Let’s say I was definitely not destined for glory.

Agility aside, there was the small question of sight—or lack thereof. I could be wrong, but I’ve personally never seen a ballerina pirouetting in bifocals. I decided I didn’t need glasses, given that we were hardly likely to be leaping into the sculpted arms of a Baryshnikov equivalent (the notion, while perilous, was not entirely unpleasant). I opted to view my fellow class attendees and teacher in soft focus. Spectacle free.

And this is probably why the entire hour’s class was a bit of a blur. And sadly, sans slightly ungainly friend, who rather inconveniently was moving house. Ensconced in a beautiful church hall complete with sprung wooden floors, well-hewn barre and stage (momentary scary sword dance flashback), my fellow slightly more balletic looking Silver Swans and I awaited instruction. Led by our enviably graceful and perfectly postured teacher, we did indeed learn some basic dance steps.

We learned how to point and slide, position our arms in a graceful arc, and concentrate on posture, posture, and posture. We performed barre exercises which made me feel positively professional. And the music! Heavenly renditions from all the famous ballets—music that made us all imagine for an entire hour that we were real-life ballerinas, not bumbling off-balance, slightly cramping imposters (me). We even learnt an adapted little dance from Don Quixote, playing the coquettish ‘Kitri’, complete with a bright pink fan—the fanning of which was a sweat-inducing exercise on its own. Point and slide, point and slide didn’t have quite the same look and feel in my sports socks, but in my head, I was pure swan. No ugly duckling here.

It turns out that there are mature aged swans around the world going through the same routine. Women considered past their prime are donning exercise gear, dusting off their pink ballet pumps and finding their inner prima ballerina, as it were. The movement has auspicious roots. It was started by the Royal Academy of Dance, no less after an increasing number of older learners wanted to take up ballet classes. Lessons are geared for the over 55’s, but younger participants are more than welcome. Ballet teachers train and follow a formal programme and are specifically accredited to run the classes. The programme has become so successful in Australia that it even has its own ambassador, Caroline O’Connor (AM).

She explains it thus: “Dance is a beautiful form of human expression and a wonderful way to maintain a social connection. In my opinion, there is nothing that compares to the joy you feel when you hear music, and you begin to dance. Silver Swans ballet classes are the perfect way to enjoy your ‘silver years’to still embrace movement, to keep your body supple, and to engage your brain and feel young and joyful.”

And as American author and columnist Dave Barry once said: “Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.” 

Also, be prepared to laugh. A lot. And that in itself was a pure tonic for this aspiring swan.

For further details, contact Dancetra, Susan Johnstone School of Dancing.

Ph: (07) 3720 0758 | Mobile: 0404 131 576 |


Covid Shower Reno

“It’s arrived! The MULTIPANEL Waterproof Shower Base Kit from Melbourne has arrived!!!”

The excitement was tangible. Several weeks in the making and the empty shell formerly known as the ensuite shower was finally about to take shape. 

Demolition had started in the throes of our semi Covid lockdown. There we were, holed up at home, and suddenly the bathrooms were looking a little tired. How about new shower screens to modernise? A little economically sensible lift would do the trick. A  bathroom Botox equivalent, as it were. Measuring and quotes ensued, and we were all set for sparkling new shower screens which surely would take years off its current state.

The shower screen company was inundated, and the installation would take weeks. No problem, we had time. Perhaps a little regrouting was in order. A trip to Bunnings later and my husband produced a grouting tool, an industrial vacuum cleaner (‘going for a song’) and a range of other little knick-knacks to ‘make the job easier’. I said nothing, knowing better than to come between a man and his tools. I made a sort of silent, compassionate Covid pact that from this time forth, I would only utter building statements.

My husband’s enthusiasm and increased handyman confidence had become increasingly contagious. Familial concern was met with a reminder of his kitchen recycled timber benchtop reno. A work in progress perhaps, but hey, almost there. So inflated was his confidence that I would not have been in the least surprised had he undertaken a light aircraft construction in the lounge room. Youtube is that powerful.

Anyway, back to the job. Regrouting the guest shower progressed with apparent ease. Our ensuite bathroom proved to be slightly less successful. After a little overzealous use of his ‘multi-tool’ a tile smashed to the floor. And then, before any consultation, he decided to smash them all. “Old anyway”. And there, one would think, it would stop. But no. Tiles, it seems, don’t just merrily part company with particleboards, they bring the board down with them. Still, this did not seem to be in any way problematic for my budding builder. He cut away the boarding with his handy little Youtube-inspired Japanese saw (bought online for another time, another job). 

All was going swimmingly until he sawed straight through a water pipe. Behold the dreaded home renovator groan, followed by a sprint to the water meter and an appearance of copious amounts of plumbers tape.  A real-life plumber arrived the following day but not before a slow leak through the night. A few hundred dollars later and our demolition derby was back on track.

The demolition included several trips to Bunnings and the aptly named Total Tools. For vague reasons, a “Detroit Demolition Hammer” was produced and my builder in training proceeded to jackhammer up the shower floor tiles including the shower “sand and mortar base”.

 Much later I heard him soberly chatting on the phone about breaking the seal. The only ‘breaking the seal’ that rang a bell had biblical connotations so at last, I ventured a question. What seal, why and how? Slightly sheepishly, he admitted that yes, he did break the shower seal. By mistake. “But hey, this is an old house, it was going to start leaking someday anyway.” In another 20 years, perhaps. Moving forward …

Next came long evenings of online research. Now and then I heard “Jack” or “Zac” or “Frederick” enthusiastically wax lyrical about how to make sealing your shower an absolute cinch. The long and short of it was that there was a revolutionary, no-fuss way to seal showers and all architects worth their salt were now on board. The slight hiccup was that it had to be ordered, cut to size and shipped from Melbourne. 

It would take weeks to exterminate … I mean fabricate. While waiting for the MULTIPANEL to arrive, some new tiles were in order. These were duly ordered, and delayed delivery meant plenty of time for further Youtube research.

 “I can do it,” he emerged, flushed with (false) promise after another video extolling the virtue and supposed simplicity of tiling oneself. Another trip to the big tool shop later and he had knee pads, face masks, tile grout, cement, tile spacers, even a ‘line laser level’ for perfectly straight lines. (“Look! It doubles as a disco light!”). He had acquired everything (and more) that a seasoned tiler would need for the job. Bandied words such as “puddle flange” were mentioned – sounding suspiciously like an eighties dessert! 

Another real-life plumber was called in “on an advisory basis” and to later install a brand new tap mixer (tellingly, the ‘Botox’ beginning was hurtling towards a full-blown facelift). I arrived home to a solemn twosome staring at our empty shell. For the very first time, my husband looked slightly crestfallen. He broke the news with a distinctly sombre tone. Elliot had advised him to enlist a tiler, a  professional, tiler. Bless his steel-capped boots. 

“Wouldn’t touch the job myself,” said Elliot. Now, when a seasoned tradie utters those words, you listen. Everyone knows tradies can do anything. Only social distancing curtailed my enthusiastic embrace of Sir Elliot. “I’ve got just the guys for you,” he added, soothingly.

Wally and his partner arrived the next day. They stared at the MULTIPANEL propped against the shell of a shower wall with a mixture of mystification and slowly, a rising element of respect. They’d never seen a MULTIPANEL before. Ever. In all their 30 plus years of tiling.

My husband looked on a little smugly, a glimmer of Covid confidence returning. “YouTube research,” he said. 

“And of course, I’ll need first to pour the levelling concrete and install the puddle flange.”

© 2020 Lois Nicholls, author & freelance journalist

What Dog is THAT? Cover

An ‘A’ for ‘What Dog is That?’

My daughter, Lara and I were delighted to receive an Editor’s Pick – a book of outstanding quality – from the honest opinion of a professional Publisher’s Weekly reviewer in November 2020. (A lightning bolt indicates an Editor’s Pick)

Lois Nicholls’s (Bye-bye Bikini) delightful debut children’s book introduces youngsters to a different dog on each page, sharing fun tidbits about both the individual animal and their breed. Children meet dogs of common breeds, such as “Tarna the Golden Retriever,” dogs of no specific variety like “Oogie and Moogie,” and newer breeds like “Fwuffy the Groodle.” Joyful poems introduce each character, describing their personalities and interests, as well as mentioning common physical qualities that differentiate breeds and each dog’s distinctive temperament. When the occasional word comes up that young readers may not know, such as “paddock,” the author provides easy-to-understand definitions at the bottom of the page.

A poem about each dog sits beside a whimsical watercolor portrait by the author’s daughter, Lara Nicholls; they illuminate the dogs’ personalities and draw readers in with their expressive eyes. Lara Nicholls also ups the enjoyment factor for young readers by adding one tiny, intricate bee on every page—hidden on a dog or in a word—as a seek-and-find challenge that older kids and adults will enjoy, too.

Lois Nicholls’s charming poetry is not the only star of this show; she ensures an enjoyable reading experience for budding readers with the creative use of fonts and imaginative formatting for a quirky touch. An amusing game at the end titled “What’s My Name” tests how well readers paid attention to the narrative. Kids and adults alike will revel in the entertaining format, and the reading combined with games will have them returning again and again.

Takeaway: Young readers and those reading along with them will delight in this entertaining introduction to loveable pooches.

Great for fans of: Kevin O’Malley’s The Perfect Dog, Avery Corman’s Bark in the Park!: Poems for Dog Lovers, Maira Kalman’s Beloved Dog.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

This review will appear in Publisher’s Weekly Print & Online edition on 2nd February 2021.

BookLife Review

It’s a Dog’s Life

A friend recently sent me an adorable pic of a raggedy dog with a wide, jowly grin.

The caption read: ‘Pandemic pooches everywhere.’

It couldn’t be more apt. Probably the happiest beings by far right now are the dogs around the world because owning a pooch has become a symbol of freedom. And dogs are the ultimate winners. It’s no longer a chore or a bore to walk the dog but a source of great joy and anticipation. And not just for the dog. In fact, if dog owners had tails, they would be wagging too.

You could say that owning a dog in this pandemic has become the ultimate get out of jail free card. A genuine reason to be out and about.  Not that all dog owners are deserving of special treatment. Going on the informed reports of another friend, (she hears all trending gossip in a well-heeled medical hub), there are many ‘fake’ dog owners who are using pooches for their own ends. They’re walking dogs, (sometimes borrowed), that once barely saw beyond the back fence. Their owners, (or borrowers) are having secret rendezvous with friends, and the dog is a mere decoy.

These imposters are easy to spot, she notes. Simply observe the walkers in shiny new lycra and full makeup, barely working up a sweat. And note that the dog is dragging the human. Also observe that the dog in question is usually a highly strung, slightly overweight pooch that lifts its leg on every blade of grass and has absolutely no idea how to walk on a leash. They’re also devoid of social etiquette. And they sniff every passing dog’s nether regions and that of their owners for good measure. But who’s complaining? These dogs are a picture of pure, unadulterated joy. Long may it last.

Amid the COVID-19 gloom, it is also encouraging to note that dogs are not only a ticket to freedom but a darn good substitute for a hug. If you can’t hug a human, there’s nothing in the whole world better than hugging a dog, which is why animal shelters have reportedly seen an escalation in adoptions. That’s good news! And not only for dogs, but for cats too. I’m sure if given a choice, many in isolation would be choosing pet over human.

Our feline remains a source of eternal vexation for the dogs who walk past our front gate. He maintains a permanent air of bored disregard and lounges on his back no matter what the impending danger. He even remained in situ recently while a Groodle came so close he made nose contact. It could be that our ginger fluff ball is too darned fat to run away from anything. Any day now I’m going to have to put a “Do not feed the cat” sign on the fridge door because no one seems to check if he’s been fed or not. 

I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s not the only one being a tad overfed in this pandemic. Our resident neighbourhood bull, George, is also showing signs of overindulgence. Normally quite frisky when offered something delectable, he is currently less enthusiastic than usual. Just this week he lumbered over from the far end of the field when I beckoned with an indulgent air of ‘Ok, so you walked all this way with an apple—may as well eat it, Human.’ He took the apple and slowly crunched, but I could tell this wasn’t his first. And nor would it be his last. 

Although right now, it seems that it’s a dog’s life. And that’s no bull.

© 2020 Lois Nicholls

Curbing Panic in a Pandemic

So there I was wandering around Woolies clutching a bulb of garlic, a modest thumb of ginger and a bar of coconut soap when all around me was a contained panic.

It occurred that the last time I experienced this simmering hysteria was in the lead up to Christmas when there was a rumoured turkey shortage. Or Queensland pre-flood 2011 when everyone bought up all the bottled water. Or maybe just before, shock and horror, the shops close for a day.

I’d gone in for said garlic and ginger, deviating slightly and buying a bar of coconut soap instead of pump-action hand wash which was as scarce as loo roll. What’s with that? Mid wander, I bumped into a friend who laughed at my meagre offering and said just as well I didn’t want meat today as shelves were stripped bare and mincemeat was nowhere to be found. Meat was now on the endangered list too right up there with toilet paper. A few days later, I realised the extent of her slow brewing panic while searching in vain for some basics.

I was beginning to realise the wisdom of stocking up, even marginally, when I eventually tried to track down loo roll. Together with a few other bemused late bloomers, I discovered that despite being told there was enough to keep us all in business, panic had ensued and the toilet paper shelves were eerily empty. It took me three days to finally pounce on a pack. I’d even sidled up to a poker-faced Aldi security guard (keeping my 1.5m social distance) and casually asked when the next delivery would be. He shrugged, all secret-service like and evaded the question, possibly warned about an impending stampede. 

“I’m one of those people who didn’t stock up—my need is genuine!”

“I’m one of those people who didn’t stock up—my need is genuine!” I tried. To his credit, he was unmoved but did manage a slight facial twitch (or nervous tic), when I casually offered, “Ok, no problem, we have plenty of foliage in the garden. That will do. Have a lovely day!”

What I’m sensing, in the midst of all this wanton stockpiling, is a quiet air of pride in those who have not yet succumbed. They exude a sense of superiority when arriving at the checkout with just the essentials, no more. See? I’m not following the herd. I’m buying bananas and no toilet paper. I wasn’t ‘one of those people’ who stripped the shelves bare of pasta, rice, a pallet of tinned tomatoes and anything else with a long shelf life. This group shouldn’t be confused with those harbouring both pride and a good dose of smugness for preempting the famine and quietly stashing for months. 

Whatever self-righteous complacency I may have harboured was swiftly pierced when on one supermarket visit, I noticed the woman ahead in the checkout queue with pump-action hand wash. I confess I went into robotic drive and thought, “I need that. I need that right now”. Perhaps some subliminal messaging was at play. Indeed, I had it on proper authority from my medical friend that a bar of soap was a germ catcher. So I sprinted to the back of the shop to scoop up the precious and somewhat depleted hand wash.

“Training for the Olympics are we?”

 “Whoa!” said an elderly gentleman, somewhat amused. “Training for the Olympics are we?” “Handwash!” I spluttered. “Oh forget that—I just use vinegar!” he chuckled, “… and stay home!” he added, leaving me a tad red-faced. Leave it to the oldies to impart a little common sense.

So while I will try and curb any unconscious desire to stockpile, and can’t see myself fighting for toilet paper or crash tackling fellow shoppers for the last pack of mincemeat, I can’t promise constraint in the confectionery aisle.

If there are mere whispers that the chocolate supply chain is interrupted, things could turn ugly. Just saying.

© 2020 Lois Nicholls, author & freelance journalist

Passport Photos

There’s nothing like new middle-aged passport photos to bring on a bucket load of self-doubt.

In earlier years, a new passport photograph elicited excitement—there was international travel pending! But with age, the excitement is momentarily marred by the stark reminder that photoshopping and soft lighting is a valuable and most necessary tool. Instead, you are left in the questionable photographic hands of anyone who happens to be behind the post office counter.

Admittedly, you could have looked slightly better enlisting the help of a more sympathetic photographer. But who has the vanity or time?

So, there you are in all your glory, planted in front of a wonky white screen, totally at the mercy of ‘Barry’ brandishing a camera and trying to aim in your general direction. He is of course, totally unaware that you may well need counselling after the passport photo reveal. No, far more concerned is he that your ears and eyebrows are exposed because these are apparently telling. You know way before he’s even finished that the end result is not going to be good. And you can’t request a few more snaps just in case.

That would be vain. And what’s more, customers are watching.

As predicted, my picture looked exactly like the second to last mug shot in those photographic accounts of a drug addict’s demise. What I mean is that I didn’t look terribly gorgeous at all. Shadowed and a little liverish, more like it. So there I was, stuck for the next seven years and unceremoniously sent off to be sealed and silenced in my new passport.

Back home, with my spares for all to see, I asked the inevitable, “Be honest now, is this what I really look like?”

By now I’m hoping against logic that the camera sometimes lies. My daughter chooses to dodge the question.

“It’s not as though anyone’s actually going to see your passport,” she says.

Don’t think I didn’t see that half-suppressed snigger. Well, yes, actually they are. I’ve heard the LAX airport officials are rude to the point of plain facetious … will they laugh out loud, I wonder? And if they do, am I allowed to tell them they’re nasty. Apparently not. They won’t let me in if I do.

The truth is that no matter how youthful I felt pre-passport photo, that instantly disappeared in that one moment of photo reveal. Suddenly I need Botox, fillers (what are those anyway?), and anything else my smooth-faced eyebrow therapist should suggest. Is that why she sent me the buy one, get two face peel offers? It’s all making sense now.

Why didn’t she tell me my face had collapsed? And why didn’t my friends reveal? Or my husband? Please explain.

Perhaps it’s self-interest. Apparently we’d have to sell the house and one of my organs to pay for ‘those procedures’. I use plural because I’d imagine it’s a bit like renovating an old house. You start with one room and suddenly everything else needs refurbishment. I’m not ready to give up an organ. I’d far rather have an overseas holiday. And I can’t help thinking how many hungry mouths that ‘procedure’ would feed.

The heartening thought is that I’m not alone in my ageing process. And I’m delighted to say most of my close friends agree in theory—that with age, we should be more focussed on the inside.The exterior is bound to give up the ghost at some stage anyway. It’s been encouraging to see that on the whole these friends have kept their word. That said, one has already broken ranks. We all know who you are. And we’re watching you.

The rest of us, have been committed to growing old gracefully—some teetering towards disgracefully.

Admittedly it’s hard to tell, swollen goldfish lips aside, who’s had a refreshing holiday or who’s really kept their word. Participants don’t generally tuck and tell. One friend did. She went on a girls’ weekend away and decided to throw caution to the wind and sneak a little Botox on her frown lines.

My friend’s forehead became smooth as a baby’s bottom. She revealed that while she enjoyed being wrinkle free for a while, she felt as though she’d had a stroke. She couldn’t move her forehead for ages—her brow literally frozen in time. This explained Nicole Kidman’s face in the movie, ‘Australia’. My lasting impression was her singular expression of permanent surprise supposedly covering happy, sad or smouldering. There wasn’t a large range there.

And I suppose those are the immortals we should leave it to. The one’s with their faces plastered on billboards and movie screens. I’m yet to have my mug on a billboard but I can imagine the pressure to look pretty darn perfect.

I’m just going to remove my specs and take another look at myself … Soft focus, now that’s more like it.

Actually not half bad for an old girl.

© Lois Nicholls 2016

Lost for Words

Words I fear, are dearly departing.

Not permanently in a sinister, deeply sad early-onset Alzheimer’s sort of way. I mean temporarily. Going AWOL for a few minutes then reappearing with wanton abandon, casually, as though they hadn’t disappeared in the first place.

Their nonchalant “Gotcha!” reappearance can be while I’m in the shower, driving or performing some random task. They’ve been known to pop up while eating chocolate or while seeking out another word entirely. It’s that random – a game of hide and seek where they’re always doing the hiding.

It hasn’t always been like this. Words would momentarily disappear for long enough to say, “Ummm …” and back they’d pop. With dependable regularity. But now? They get lost in transit. They worm their way to the back of my brain and have a fat party before deciding to return.

In the writing game, this does not bode well. It’s not as though any old word will do. Sometimes it’s the elusive one that I want, not a stand-in imposter. So I increasingly turn to my online thesaurus which, while very sensible, is less dependable when I want something a little less mainstream. Maybe even a word in another language. Is that too much to ask?

Slightly encouraging is that there does seem to be some benefit in eating copious amounts of brain food. A quick Google search revealed that if I ate more fish, legumes, grains, low-fat dairy and fruit, I could be in with a chance. The Western diet, often high in fat, sugar and with way too much meat is a recipe for disaster. I’m assuming then that Paleo’s bone broth, high fat and carnivorous approach isn’t going to cut it. Personally, I would find it rather difficult choosing mind over cheese platter.

Heartening again, however, is that many experts simply put the odd touch of forgetfulness down to a tad too much happening in our brains. Too much to remember. Too many passwords and emails. Too many meetings, appointments and a tugging of our time. Too much work and not enough play.

By far the most comforting discovery, however, is that I’m not alone. I visited a friend recently who had a shrub of pink rose-like flowers in her garden. I told her how much I loved “magnolias … gardenias …” their actual name escaped me. They weren’t magnolias or gardenias. And they weren’t ‘pink flower things’ either (her offering).

It was a day later while driving in a completely different neck of the woods that it came to me. Suddenly, with no prompting; Camellias. They were camellias! Back home I texted the friend: “They were camellias! “, I said, adding a light bulb emoji for good measure.

“What???” she texted back, adding a confused emoji for good measure. The truth is, she hadn’t a clue what I was talking about.

Love us.

A Bone to Pick with Paleo

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA — The beleaguered Pete Evans of paleo persuasion might just have an ally on the far-flung side of the world. His name is Professor Tim Noakes and I truly believe he and Pete should chew the cud, so to speak.

The renowned Cape Town based professor you see, is also under public scrutiny for his dietary views. He is a great protagonist of the Banting diet (very similar to Paleo but says yes to a little dairy). Sugar is pure evil. He’s also the author of The Real Meal Revolution. His original notoriety, however, was gained from a heavyweight book he once wrote, The Lore of Running.

Noakes’ recent media scrutiny stems from his complete backflip when it comes to his former high carb teachings. He’s been pretty vocal about his new high fat, low carb diet. He, like Pete has been publicly bashed by dieticians and worse, fellow Cape Town University academics. The public is also fed up, judging by a reliable source of scandal, Facebook.

Years ago, every running enthusiast I knew loaded with pasta pre-race because the professor told them to. They devoured his heavy tome and in pursuit of running excellence, ensured they followed his diet plan to the last pasta shell.

I was one such devotee, particularly when it came to pre-race diets and training plans. If Professor Noakes said it was true, so it was. He was a renowned sports scientist after all – not to mention a participant of 70 marathons and ultra-marathons. And now, all these years later, he has come out and said sorry, I was wrong. You know that bit where I said: let them eat pasta? Well, they should have eaten steak instead.

But really, is that enough? Just sorry? Sorry doesn’t quite cut it for the thousands of well-meaning runners who hosted hundreds of pre-race pasta parties.

Most deserving of a special apology, however, is the old man of the road, Wally Hayward. A former Olympian, he won the infamous Comrades Marathon five times (a gruelling 90 kilometres).

He completed his last Comrades just shy of eighty-one. His secret? Legend had it that he consumed a rather generous pre-race steak. Everyone thought he was slightly unhinged at the time. What would an old man know about diet anyway? What about carbs? How the tables turned. A decade or so later, steak became hero and carbs were unceremoniously dumped.

Coming back to Pete, while he and family did look marvelously healthy on their recent Current Affair plug, I couldn’t help thinking what sort of food recollections his sweet children will have.

My nostalgic food memories include ravenously devouring freshly baked white bread sandwiches oozing with butter and marmite. Will beetroot cake evoke the same warm and fuzzies?

The bone I have to pick with both Pete and the venerable professor, I might add, is that both diets are ever so slightly self-absorbed. Not to mention time-consuming. Pete’s bone broth, for example, not only involves a commitment to drink, but it requires pure fortitude to make. A health nut friend tried it for a while and seemed to spend her life shopping for organic chicken carcasses and bones. Note, organic. Sustainably farmed. Not any old chicken and beef bones would do. And they had to simmer for hours before the real goodness could be flushed from said bones.

Anyone who can keep this ritual up forever deserves a medal. More importantly, they must be well-heeled. To truly follow the diets, one must preferably buy organic. My dear husband who is slightly on the gullible side with the odd food fad, is currently dabbling in Paleo. By dabbling I mean he’s cut out sugar and is drinking sludge. It started when told by a friend that berry and kale breakfast smoothies kept him alert and super-charged. Not any old berries, mind you, they had to be organic because ordinary blueberries were ‘doused with pesticides’.

Turns out organic berries are exactly double the price of their non-organic cousins.

The same applies to anything given the ‘organic’ blessing.

The real good news to emerge from all of this is that finally, my chocolate stash is quite safe. For now, it seems I can indulge in my daily fix all by myself. It may be short-lived. If history repeats itself, I give Kale Man two weeks max.

And as for Paleo Pete et al, I would take them with a hearty pinch of salt. Just make it Himalayan.

© Copyright Lois Nicholls 2016

Drop ‘organic’ for one Elle of a 50th

There’s been a lot written lately about Elle turning 50 next year.
I take an interest because I am almost the same vintage and so, share a particular affinity with the magnificently proportioned and ageless model known as The Body. In case you’re wondering, the tag mentioned above justifiably stuck after her five cover appearances on the iconic Sports Illustrated magazine.

I was born in July ‘63 – my friend Elle in March ’64 – which makes us a mere eight months apart. We both finished school in ‘81 so could, theoretically, have been classmates. We could have enjoyed the same movies – For Your Eyes Only, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Raiders of the Lost Ark … remember those? We probably listened to the same music, boogied on the disco floor to Blondie’s Call Me and went through a phase of schoolgirl anarchy with Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall. We could well have slow-danced to Captain and Tennille’s Do That to Me One More Time … aah, the memories. The similarity, I am sad to say, ends there.

I recently mentioned to my teens that: “Did you know Elle is turning 50 next year? We’re almost the same vintage,” after showing them an especially fetching newspaper shot of her sporting surfboard and trademark bikini at Bondi. “No ways! I can’t believe it!” My daughter gushed with a tad more enthusiasm than entirely necessary, followed by a telling look at the apparition next to her – me, basking unashamedly in a state of early morning glory – a bra-less wonder in sleep shorts and faded T-shirt.

Yes, I concede, Elle is drop-dead gorgeous. She also looks a decade or two younger than her age, but I fear that through her sheer air of perfection, she has made herself untouchable. Perhaps it is time to let go a bit. For example, just yesterday I read yet another article about her impending 50th birthday and yet another boring interviewer asking how she managed to retain such eternal youthfulness.

I didn’t have to know what she said – I knew exactly what the publicity machine would pontificate. “Organic food, exercise and three litres of water a day.” And, of course, seven hours of sleep a night. Personally, the bit that fascinated me most was the three litres of water. I would be up all night.

I happened to mention this tiresome interview to a friend who is also on the slippery cusp of turning 50. She too was skeptical. “Pullllease … organic? This is organic,“ she said, outlining her comfortably rounded figure. I’m with her. Just once, I wish Elle would own up. Her popularity would not wane if she casually suggested that: “Actually, sometimes I polish off a whole slab of chocolate, and I’m more than a little partial to the odd drop.”

Just once, I wish she would let loose and say something vaguely outrageous like: “Pass me the chips, I’m almost 50 for goodness sake, not 20. And, by the way, all that stuff about organic food is codswallop – I have had a teeny weeny bit of work done. And, yes, my knees occasionally ache when I jog.”

In fact, I would dare suggest she practices embracing her 50’s with a new sense of honesty. There is still an entire year to become the people’s person. There’s plenty of opportunity for a career change and how less stressful that would be – for the rest of her contemporaries too.

One totally plausible possibility is the role of talk show host – a replacement for Oprah, perhaps. I would call it ‘Elle Talks … at last’. I predict soaring popularity when she spills the beans on how hard it was to keep up the pretence and pressure of being The Body. Oh, the relief of revealing she is human, after all. I predict a swarm of ageing actresses lining up to tell their story – of publicly renouncing Botox, body sculpting and buckwheat.

But I fear this revelation won’t happen anytime soon. Elle is the face of Brand Elle – of sun, surf and eternally fresh-faced, lithe-bodied beauty. But Oh Elle, what pressure! Maintaining that whippet body, perfect skin, hair and make-up must be immense. I would suggest fifty will be a timely age to finally hang up the string bikini and tell the world to find themselves another Body – that this one is tired. And at times, rather sore.

And so, Elle, I beseech you, drop your guard. We will love you even more, I promise. And all the millions of women facing a scarily imminent fifty will breathe a sigh of relief and reach, guilt-free for the double chocolate cheesecake and full cream latte.

We, your presumptuous peers wait with bated breath. And we’re here for you, glass of cheeky Riesling in hand (or perhaps you would prefer a full-bodied Cab Sav?) if you need us.

© Lois Nicholls

An edited version of this article appeared in The Sunday Mail, 3rd March 2013 – Click to view.

Let us grow old without the guilt

IN MY MOTHER’S ERA, middle-aged women were content to be middle-aged women. They wouldn’t dream of trying to fit into their teenage daughter’s jeans or befriend their friends on Facebook, if there was such a thing back then.

I remember whispered concern about a particular woman who would walk miles to maintain a stick-like figure but, mostly, women had a healthy approach to life. Manic walker aside, I don’t remember anyone looking like a whippet unless born that way and there was no power walking with weights or hiring a personal trainer to work on “abs”. Cross-fit? That would be exercising with a bad attitude.

There were no gym junkies because there were no gyms and a weekly game of tennis was the sociable exercise of choice. My mother had a friend called Lorna Jane but she wasn’t a gym clothing icon, her surname was Smith, not Clarkson.

The more adventurous souls took up yoga when the fad hit my little country town and I recall my nicely rounded mum proudly showing us how she could balance on her head on the lounge room carpet. She and her peers settled into middle-age with an accepting sigh and laughed off a couple of gained kilos or a midriff that bore testimony to three children and the odd cream scone.

These women occasionally went on a diet “on Monday” after a particularly “naughty” weekend of too much Chicken a la King and Rhubarb Fool at Dorothy’s (such a good cook) but, generally, everyone embraced their age without much fanfare.

Interestingly, they’ve mostly all reached a ripe old age of 80 and beyond.

Now that I’m middle-aged myself, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Some of my peers are buying into the idea that middle age is the new 30-something. Here’s the thing, it’s not.

When you’re 30 your perfect Cindy-esque moles don’t start propagating and your eyebrows don’t gain a life of their own.

One of the blessings in disguise about growing older is the eyes grow dim just at a time when every minute detail needs attention before leaving the house. I say blessing because soft focus is what I get when I peer in the mirror sans reading glasses.

It’s not that I am against the middle-aged embracing health, I just don’t like them sharing their fads with me. By all means, limit your intake of processed carbs and sugar. Feel free to partake in age-defying potions or even take up triathlons, just don’t let us lesser mortals know about it particularly since we’ve just discovered macaroons.

And, anyhow, fresh from watching the French movie, A Lady in Paris, I am certain it’s the character, not the body we need to be working on. The embittered, lonely, acerbic, wealthy, glamorous and once-feted old woman at the heart of the story was reason enough to forget the body and hone the character.

And while this grumpy middle-aged woman is at it, please don’t do selfies on Facebook. Leave that to teens. And don’t change your profile pic every week. Enough said. Oh, one more thing, I’m not advocating letting it all hang out, I walk regularly and eat healthily, I promise. All I’m saying is please give the rest of us middle-aged women a break. Let us eat, drink and be merry should we choose to do so. And let us grow old gracefully, graciously but, most of all, guilt-free. We’ve earned it.

This article was published in The Courier Mail, 8th August 2013