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    A Few Good Women

    Beelzebub's Toothache

    Holy cow, ho-leeee-cow, it wasn't so much toothache as whole, entire one side of my face-ache (I've been called that!)   It was hell.  It came in contractions, regular contractions just like you know what.  Most of them actually made me cry (the toothache ones not the child birth ones which is odd come to think of it) and I don't cry easily.  (That's absolutely not true, I cry all the time now.  Happy or sad, I drip all over the place, must be my hormones.  I'd be a brilliant actress.) So yes, that was last week.  For three days before I finally gave in and went to see a dentist.  I don't do dentists which is patently precisely why I found myself in such agony.  I've been to a dentist twice in the last twenty odd years and both times it was a case of just removing the offending bastard tooth because it was the furthest back at the top, I could manage perfectly well without it and you wouldn't see the gap unless I learned to grin like The Joker or was flat on my back with my mouth very wide open... for some reason. Removal was preferable to hours of a tense, white knuckle, dentist's chair ride in an effort to save the offender.  (Though it took less time I still had white knuckles and hyperventilated, I am pathetic.)  However, you can only do this so many times - twice in fact, one tooth each side - before you start looking a bit equine. "Three days?"  I hear you cry, "You managed to hold out for three days?????"  Well yes, as explained above I don't rush to see dentists. I also have a caring husband who told me on day one of the agony that it would be cheaper to go to Thailand to get it fixed!  He was right (of course) you wouldn't believe how expensive dentists are in Australia but, putting that aside for a moment, I just wasn't sure I could organise my life quite quickly enough to be able to spend a week in Thailand getting all my teeth fixed and, while I'm there, I might as well get everything else I possibly can fixed too.  (That's one long list!)   Don't you just love 'em?  Husbands not dentists.  Oh god, imagine them being one and the same - if you were married to one!!!  There's a subject for another post, being married to your dentist/gynaecologist.... someone told me a story recently of a woman who's gynaecologist told her he couldn't be her gynaecologist  (have you noticed I can spell that? I was once, briefly, a medical secretary)  any more and when she asked why he said it was because he wanted to take her out!  (He meant 'take her out' in the romantic sense not the 'putting her flat on her back' sense.... oh, you know what I mean!)  Anyway, how's that for a romantic "so how did you two meet then?" story!  Sorry, no, couldn't be married to a gynaecologist.  (Do you hear that collective sigh of relief?)  Hence the decision to 'go local' was made and I took the recommendation of a friend who has recently taken herself and her family to a practice smack in the middle of town; Highlands Dental. So there I was.  Crikey (as they say down here) they've changed a bit in twenty odd years!!!  (You can't count the two visits I have made because they were brief, under duress, huge duress and I was in such a state it was almost an out-of-body experience.)  I was greeted by the sweetest young girl called Debbie who gave me such an empathetic look as she said, "you  must be Jacqueline".  I had explained on the phone that I was, to put it mildly, in a world of pain.   My dear friend was there waiting for her daughter who was having a couple of fillings.  (Did I mention that we live in a small town?)  She and I usually laugh a lot when we are together but this time was a bit different.  Though it was lovely having her there and we managed to joke a bit about her being my 'emergency contact' (I had to fill in the form for new patients) as the more obvious choice had suggested I bear the discomfort a bit longer and get on with organising our next family holiday.   My friend's daughter appeared, reassuringly chirpily, and I shuffled into the chair in her place.  Then out of the chair for x-rays and back in the chair for a chat with the reassuringly soothing (and older than me, no offence, always a reassuring sign!) dentist about which tooth looked the most likely culprit... then Debbie gave me a small pack of horse-strength painkillers and thoughtfully offered me a little plastic cup of water so I could take the first one there and then before I was sent  home with a prescription for antibiotics and an appointment to return the next day. All I can say is that I hope horses don't get toothache too often.  Those painkillers barely touched the sides, I was popping them like Smarties and to no avail.  Still the contractions came and went, relentlessly, all night and all the next day.   I was counting down the hours until my appointment, one of the most bizarre things I've ever done. Debbie was there, still smiling compassionately.  She must have thought I was pathetic, a great big grown woman behaving like a three year old!  She took me in, sat me in the chair and we talked about sedation.  Yes, sedation!  Fantastic, what do you have?!  As I said, dentists really have come a long way recently and it appears that I'm far from alone in being a trifle anxious.  Once a month, on a Friday, they have an anaesthetist at the surgery!  Now you're talking... she said patients are taken to the point of being almost out cold but apparently they can follow instructions like 'open your mouth' perfectly.  And best of all, they often don't remember anything about their visit!  Sadly (big understatement) although it's Friday it's not the right Friday.  She said that those Fridays are completely booked out for decades and they are going to try to organise more but that's no use to me right now.   But Debbie is still smiling.  Debbie knows something. Debbie tells me about the Green Whistle.  (I didn't know what it was either) . Apparently it's what the paramedics carry in the ambulances now, it acts as both a relaxant and a painkiller.  You suck hard on this thing that looks a bit like a short penny whistle with a mysterious clear tube on the top containing the special ingredient that looks like black peppercorns.  They click and shake and mix the ingredients and a noxious smelling gas is produced.  Debbie tells me it tastes pretty disgusting but that I will only notice it for the first few breaths... and she's right.  "Hang  on", I said, "is this anything like that gas they give you in childbirth???  I sucked my way through a whole canister of that stuff and it did nothing!"  She assured me that, although she hadn't tried the gas and air option, she felt sure this one would work.  So I'm trying to drag in and hold huge lungfuls of Green Whistle while a second pretty blonde girl bustles in to get something and, as she sees me, says "Oh yum!"  She apparently whistled when she had some dental work done recently and just loved it!  Incidentally, I spotted her name badge... it said Grace Kelly.  Lucky for her parents, I thought, that she turned out so utterly gorgeous, it would be a real bummer to have a name like that and look like the back end of a bus.  I knew of a girl yonks ago called Elizabeth Taylor and, very recently here in Australia, a Mrs Kelly who called her son Ned - NTS (note to self) must ask Grace if she has a brother - who, for those of you not being held down under (?) was an Irish Australian bushranger and murderer who sported a somewhat unusual home-made tin helmet.  He has of course since made his way into folklore, I should imagine Mel Gibson is writing the script as we speak.  Anyway, naming your children after very famous people... that's for another discussion. I'm not sure whether the whistle worked or not but I have to admit that I had root canal work and I didn't feel a thing!   How odd?

    Kraft Foods

    And in the naughty corner today, Blessed and Lucky.... what a triumph of marketing over substance! Kraft foods have clearly sat down and wondered how they can tap into the rapidly growing market for better quality products made by smaller, boutique manufacturers. They came up with a wholesome sounding name, shamelessly playing on the Australian love of the word 'lucky', and designed the packaging to imply that there is a quality, natural product inside. What they have NOT done (because they are not legally required to) is state anywhere at all on the label that it is in fact produced by Kraft foods, no doubt on the same enormous production lines that all their other very standard quality products are emitted from. Their head office address in Melbourne is there (as legally required) but who would recognise that?! Then we move onto the 'free range' eggs they apparently use in all these 'premium' products. As we know, there is now a real problem with customer confidence as far as egg labelling goes thanks to the change in the definition of 'free range' proposed by the Australian Egg Corporation (which is owned by the major egg producers it represents.)  It seems inconceivable that, in Australia, there is currently no legal definition of 'free range' but only guidelines.  However we can assure the Egg Corp that we, the consumers, imagine healthy chickens running freely during the daylight hours on open ground, probably somewhere near the previously advised limit of 1500 hens per hectare. However, the Egg Corp is proposing an increase in that limit to 20,000! There will be much more on this issue on AFGW. So back to the misleading branding by Kraft foods. We have two issues with this; firstly that they are, in our opinion, trying to sell us an ordinary product under a 'premium' banner - something confirmed by a taste test... this product really is very ordinary and lord only knows how it managed to win those awards. Secondly, they are competing with the smaller producers who genuinely strive to offer premium quality products made with integrity and love. We feel this is misleading, to say the least, and very unfair and anti-competitive particularly as they have a deal with Coles supermarket who stock this prominently on the eye level shelves. How many smaller producers can compete with that? So we at AFGW say 'no' to Kraft Foods and Coles; no, we don't approve and no, we are not fooled.

    In Praise of Women

    Strong, caring friends have seen the TV presenter through work stress, bereavement and failed relationships

    Girls talk,” Elvis Costello sang in the Eighties – and that was an understatement. We don’t stop. There’s no topic too embarrassing, too gory, too devastating, too painful or too downright funny for us to turn our empathy and attention to. Men may shudder at our indiscretion but for the female of the species such frank disclosure comes naturally: it’s all part of the connection that exists between women and the strength we derive from each other. Once upon a time they tried to convince us that diamonds were a girl’s best friend, but we knew better. We may delight in all that glitters but when it comes to what counts, a girl’s best friend has always been her girlfriends.

    My husband is where I found home but my friends are the ones who navigated me towards it, there for me during times of celebration and despair, adventure and heartache. No matter how many times I repeated the same mistakes (and when it came to affairs of the heart I was a serious case of arrested development), a handful of women, to whom I remain eternally grateful, propped me up, pretended they hadn’t heard the same old story countless times and cushioned me through my emotional turbulence. Those same treasured friends remain there for me today, having seen me through hopeless love affairs, from one husband and on to the next, the birth of my children, the death of my father and all the other trials and tribulations of my first five decades. Such support between women is as old as humanity itself. Men fought each other for territory and food while women clustered together to protect their children and keep the home fires burning. In many ways we’re still doing it, despite centuries of evolution and emancipation. Topping any list of vital contributions to the health and wealth of mankind should be the emotional housekeeping undertaken every day, for no salary or reward, by the female population. Men disparage us for gossiping and thriving, in their eyes vampirically, on the ups and downs of the lives of others. I’d call it a healthy interest in our fellow human beings. On hand with a sympathetic ear and advice for troubled partners, siblings, parents, colleagues, children or friends, the capacity of women to soak up the world’s woes is too often ignored. On whom do we rely in times of distress or personal pain but the nearest sympathetic woman? Popular mythology has it that women are our own worst enemies, failing to support each other, quick to draw negative conclusions and consumed with jealousy. In my experience, it’s entirely the opposite. My roll call of gratitude to my sex goes right back to my schoolfriend, the actress Orla Brady, whose vivacious spirit nursed me through the death of my father. I recall my 21st birthday present, lovingly created by Sarah Yeoman, of a beautiful box full of treats to see me through the night flight to Los Angeles on which the day itself was squandered thanks to work (miniature bottle of champagne along with champagne flute, rose and chocolates, plus a pocket-sized Midsummer Night’s Dream). Or the many weekends during which Gina Bellman nursed me back from emotional despair before conclusively forcing me to go on a date with the man who became my husband. The list of women I’ve used, abused and relied upon over the years is too long to elaborate on here fully but they are entirely the inspiration behind the Great Boodles Bangle, a grown-up friendship bracelet I was invited to create, with the purpose of celebrating the women we value and helping the many the world doesn’t value enough. The twitterati may be up in arms about a recent Asda advertisement depicting a stressed-out mother trying to tie the threads of Christmas together but whether or not we approve of the reality, such festivities are often the creation of already hard-pressed members of the female sex. Of course, not everyone can afford Bond Street prices for a bracelet to show their gratitude to the women who make their lives richer, even if the profits go to women who desperately need a leg-up. A little bit of thought and a large round of appreciation could turn Christmas into a time of goodwill not just to all men but all women. Whether oppressed and undervalued or thriving in a more enlightened culture, women play an equal part in ensuring the world keeps spinning. We all know the women in our lives without whom survival would be more challenging. I for one count them among my blessings every day. by Mariella Frostrup  

    Festive Orange Slices

    This is one of my favourite things to do when I start to feel the first flutter of Christmas excitement..... buy a big bag of navel oranges and slice them as finely as you can, if you can keep them just under 5mm that will be perfect.  Then turn your oven to a low 100°C and spread the slices out on baking trays.  You can put as many as you can in the oven at once, on all the shelves, but you must keep a close eye on them.  They will look almost the same for well over an hour and then they will suddenly start to look a little more dry and slightly darker.... watch carefully.  Remove the moment you can lift them easily from the tray - they are not stuck at all and they are quite stiff - don't leave them a nano-second longer.... not even if Daniel Craig is at the front door, let him wait or this is what will happen... An added bonus of doing these is that your house will smell divine while they are baking.  The orange slices look wonderful just piled up in a basket or bowl but watch this space and I'll show you some ways to make your own Christmas decorations and gifts.