A spoonful of sugar

There are advice columns …. and there are agony aunts … and then there is Sugar.

Once a week, on the Rumpus, the anonymous Sugar answers a reader’s letter and delivers heart-searingly honest wisdom and advice to a lost soul. Every week it’s a different problem and every week she absolutely nails it.

I’d love to know who Sugar is. But I also love the fact she is totally anonymous, this straight-talking, uber-intelligent, all-seeing advice ninja, telling it like it is, reinstating my faith in humanity with every problem ‘solved’.

If you’ve never read a ‘Sugar’ column I recommend starting with #64: Tiny Beautiful Things. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

Stranger than fiction

‘I was once asked: “How do you know you are living?” and I said, “I create, so I know I am living.”‘ – Florence Broadhurst

While seeking inspiration for a character in my second novel I remembered my copy of Helen O’Neill’s Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret & Extraordinary Lives, tucked away on my bookshelves.

I’ve been a fan of Broadhurst’s celebrated wallpaper designs ever since I stumbled upon a tiny display of her work in the lower ground floor of Selfridges in London a few years ago. It wasn’t much, just a few panels floating in the middle of the homewares section, and yet they were enough to reel me in. I think it was The Cranes that particularly grabbed me – pink blossom and birds floating on a shimmering gold background. I scribbled down the designer’s name and went home to find out more.

What a cool, ahead-of-the-curve cat Florence turned out to be. Bolshy, mercurial, secretive and fabulous. She was an expert at reinvention: performer, dressmaker, painter, designer. She moved with the times, shifting to each new role with startling confidence and flamboyance. And oh god, her bedroom! In one passage near the end of the book it’s described as a ‘crimson-tinged boudoir … with its floral Arabian Garden wallpaper, matching curtains and custom-made bed, an extraordinary creation of hot-pink fuscia silk with a scallop-edged, half-moon canopy and a matching hot-pink headboard.’ This, for a woman in her ’70s. Yowzers. Even her violent death remains cloaked in mystery and intrigue: she was murdered in 1977 in her Sydney factory, the case still unsolved to this day (although many believe she was the first victim of Australia’s so-called Granny Killer).

Apparently Florence once wrote on a scrap of paper: ‘Life is like a game of bridge – only a dummy puts all his cards on the table’. I love that. Florence Broadhurst was clearly larger than life, stranger than fiction, and yet she never revealed her full story. What a strange and fascinating woman. What an inspiration. What a legend.

Oh the fabulousness of the hair and the peacocks.

Days like this

When I think of Sydney I think of sunshine and blue skies, palm trees and parakeets, and the harbour dazzling with outlandish beauty. All the usual clichés.

But what’s easy to forget is the rain: full days of relentless, never-ending downpour. You wake up in the night and hear it drumming on the roof and it’s still going full pelt the following afternoon.

It’s rain-soaked days, like this one, when I finally understand why some of the storm drains I’ve passed are large enough to swallow a small child, and why the old stone kerbs of Balmain exist at their current ankle-breaking height. On a day like this, torrents of rainwater gush down the street, tributaries and rivers merge and stream down towards the harbour, no longer sparkling like the diamond of yesterday, but now dark and grey, like the clouds overhead.

I know people who moan but I love days like this: the sound of rain drumming on the roof; the cool, damp air reminding me of my English childhood; and memories too of the day after our Sydney wedding, when our little house was crammed full of friends and family, and my brand new, hungover husband stood outside on the patio, valiantly barbecuing a mountain of sausages under a rain-splattered umbrella. Good times.

Frankly, there’s nothing to be done on a day like this but to bunker down – with a baby sleeping soundly upstairs, a boy laying train track in the front room, a warm cat stretched like a hot water bottle across my lap, Angus & Julia Stone playing on the stereo, and me, nose deep in a book.

Today it’s The Passage by Justin Cronin. It’s consumed me all weekend, like the hungry virals springing from its pages; an epic adventure reminding me of the Stephen King and Jean Auel novels I happily gobbled-up as a teenager.

No, a housebound day with rain bucketing from the sky is nothing to complain about. It’s like receiving a pass note from your mum: permission to sit this one out and just kick back, listening to the timpani on the old tin roof while you devour a good book, for a little while at least. And surely, we all agree that this is one of life’s simplest pleasures?