The tryanny of lists

I’m really no good at DIY but I am good at lists and ticking them off. Although there’s always a list forming in my head, I have been a bit less ‘listy’ of late, so it was with renewed fervour that I raced through a to-do list this week, so much so that I couldn’t stop.

Life always gets a bit intense before I go overseas – I’ve got about 12 sleeps to go – and the devil is definitely in the detail. Today I tried to print off my train ticket from Vienna to Zurich (a bargain 49 Euros for a seven and a half hour scenic journey – if you can work out how to print off the ticket…). So drawing on my (rusty) university German, I called the OBB, the Austrian railway, and got through to a most charming woman. I managed to explain the problem and found out that I had chosen the pick up at the counter option rather than online printing. Everything was going swimmingly until I realised I didn’t know how to end the conversation. Luckily the woman got in before me and I remembered it’s Auf Wiederhoeren – meaning until we hear each other again – rather than Auf Wiedersehen (as in pet, anyone remember the British comedy?) – until we meet again. Another thing for the list: brush up my Deutsch!

Back to the DIY: one of my jobs has been to re-paint a couple of shelves in the bathroom as the paint had peeled off in two sections where a bottle of essential oil had spilt. I duly went into the shed for the vile oil-based enamel paint that the rip-off painters (see had used back in July. Then I put on some really old clothes, set up the dust sheets, did a bit of light sanding, pulled on a pair of special gloves (last time I got paint all over my hands and even my nose!) and did a reasonable job only spilling a bit of paint on the glass shower screen. Once completed, I felt proud to have done the job and celebrated by taking Bertie to the park. I met a fellow dog walker and apologised for smelling of turps. She said she couldn’t smell anything but noticed I had quite a bit of paint in my hair… It never ceases to amaze me that I am perfectly competent in many areas of my life but develop Mr Bean-like tendencies when it comes to home maintenance.

In between the freelance writing, I’ve also done some cooking (got my former (elderly) neighbours for morning tea this weekend), cleaned my high maintenance black and white bathroom floors, went to ALDI, op shops, second-hand furniture shops, prepared my spare room for next week’s Airbnb photo shoot, cleaned up my garden and leaf-strewn carport and took photos of my house to show folks back home. I also put up three small pictures in my guest bathroom (a few holes short of precise but my bodged attempts were easily covered) and then zipped off to JB HI-FI for new back-up drive (the old one died) and an HDMI cable so I can watch films playing on my computer on the TV screen. All very satisfying stuff but rather helter skelter, achievement-driven and rushed. So I’ve been delighted by the series of beautifully written and well observed blog posts from a friend who is a WWOOFER (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) in Japan. She’s living with a very eco-minded family who have a deep connection to the land, observe rituals and live with precision, total attention and mindfulness, qualities that are uncommon in today’s ego-driven materialist world. Her blog is called A Man, A Woman and Four Languages, and I thoroughly recommend it.

“Yesterday evening I was given a lethal hatchet knife to slice up spring onions. But my 3mm slices weren’t good enough; 1mm was what was required. Not for the first time I felt very uncivilised. So, this morning, when Rie asked me to arrange some umeboshi plums from the bin where they’d been soaking in brine, to a flat basket, to dry, I made sure that they were arranged exactly as briefed. Which meant really slowing down, and concentrating. It’s the same with the gardening, because of the approach to weed control

How do they get anything done when it all takes so long? I asked her over email. She replied “most of their life centres on the basics of growing, cooking, cleaning, washing, heating, maintaining. And these tasks aren’t chores to be completed as fast as possible; they are the stuff of life, i.e. the end as much as the means. ….doing jobs as quickly as possible isn’t the point.

I really must hurry up and look at self-publishing my book titled, SLOWING Down in the Fast Lane: From Adventure to Zen and Everything in Between.

A whiter shade of pale…

Q: What do Lexicon, China, Barrister, Berkshire, Stowe, Hog Bristle, Goat’s cheese, Eskimo Hut, Table Linen, Enchanted, Cloud Stream, Peace Flower and Skydancer have in common?

A: They are all paints marketed under the banner of whites and neutrals. And there are hundreds of them!

A few weeks ago my nephew popped round to see Mum (who was visiting from England). I asked him if he’d help me out by painting some colour swatches on the wall while I tapped away at my latest article.


The previous weekend I’d slogged (sweated) round Bunnings (for non-Aussies, Bunnings is a warehouse-style DIY store) mid-heatwave. No wonder it boasts the ‘lowest prices’ (its strapline on every ad), the air-con is either on energy-saving low or is just a series of fans pushing hot air around. I was in between paragraphs writing about melanoma (no risk inside Bunnings at least), and once I’d bought drawer and door handles, plastic drop sheets, oversize garbage bags (the local charity shops are growing to LOVE me) and looked at blinds and sinks, I was pretty much over the whole thing – the heat, my impending renovations and having to make so many decisions. So by the time I got to the paint section, I grabbed six tester pots and hoped for the best. Rather like the rare occasions I bet on the horses, I was influenced by names I liked as much as the actual colours. How could I go wrong with Peace Flower, for example? Surely it would create an oasis of calm in my living room and block out the screeching bird in my neighbour’s garden.

But, of course, none of the colours looked right; they were variously too silver, too white, too bland, too yellow or too brown – all very Goldilocks. Mum suggested a hint of pink would add a bit of warmth. And she was probably right but that would mean ANOTHER trip to Bunnings to get more tester pots and I simply couldn’t face it.

The wrong shades of white...

The wrong shades of white…

Then I had a light bulb moment! Helen and John were due to arrive in Melbourne the next day as part of their world trip from the UK to Vancouver, Tahiti, Australia and Cambodia. Helen is an artist and has a keen eye for colour, and she and John, a gorgeous man and retired farmer, have renovated what they call the ‘bung,’ Helen’s bungalow, in Somerset.

Almond white is what you need they said, it’s much nicer and warmer than Magnolia (an over-used favourite back in Blighty). They’d used Almond White in the bung and it looked great. Paint dilemma over, I thought, relieved. After studying my renovation plans in detail (rather heroic of them as they were, after all, on holiday), we set off for lunch and then did a tour of St. Kilda and Albert Park. On the way home, we stopped at my local hardware store (the opportunity was too good to miss) to get some of the Almond White to test out. But it wasn’t quite that simple. It turns out that Almond White is a UK colour so we rang Dulux Australia for the ‘recipe’ but they didn’t have it. However, they did tell us that Dulux in New Zealand do an Almond White in their range, but they didn’t know if it was the same as its British cousin. But, if it were the same thing, Hog Bristle Quarter was the nearest match. I duly bought a small pot of the Hog Bristle (white with a bit of ochre) and Helen painted it on various sections of my walls. While not quite Almond White, Helen and John thought it was pretty close and a big improvement on the other colours I had chosen.

That night they went off to stay with friends near Warrandyte. I stayed home and had plenty of time to stare at the walls, not in a sad-singleton-Shirley-Valentine-kind-of-way you understand, but in a colour-appraising way. Did I really like Hog Bristle Quarter or was I just making do? Helen and John returned on Sunday night. And guess what? They had admired the colour on the walls at their friends’ house only to discover it was none other than Hog Bristle Quarter. That was enough to convince me that HBQ was indeed the one and that I didn’t need to test out another Fifty Shades of White. Phew!