Monday, February 13, 2012

Mutton Dressed As Lamb

It is Em’s 40th birthday and she has decided to have a theme party – Mutton Dressed as Lamb!  I don’t usually like dress ups mostly because I don’t seem to be very imaginative when it comes to putting a costume together!  It is now days before the party and after shopping for groceries during late night shopping I decide to go in search of something to wear. 

I start with some fishnet stockings that are already part of my wardrobe and decide that a short bedraggled pair of denim shorts might just do the trick.  IMG_7112.CR2 We are looking around Jay Jays…a shop patronised by teenagers.  A man abut my age, dressed in business clothes has brought along his teenaged children and helps them shop for jeans.  I feel weird trying on the pair of shorts and try to pretend I belong here.  Magically, the shorts fit but Steve has still not settled on exactly what he might wear.  He has found an old school tie and shirt in his wardrobe but we need something else to spice it up.  On Saturday morning we decide to shop for wigs and our outfits our almost ready.  We’ve found blond dread locks for him and blue hair for me! 

IMG_7110.CR2 We arrive early and find Em all dressed up in a short tiger print dress.  She looks great – no hint of mutton here.  Most female guests have either gone with the short dress/ tall heels look or have settled for the short denim shorts or skirts with short tops.  The men are dressed in shorts or pants that hang low and many have also purchased wigs – blond Mohawks seem to be popular!

Earlier that day it had been bucketing again but the rain stopped and the evening has turned out to be brilliant.  We sip champagne, eat canapés and catch up with friends.  Em has invited 40 people from different parts of her life – school and university friends from Cape Town mingle with her neighbours and extended family in Sydney. 

It is a great day and is topped off when we sing happy birthday.  The darkness is lit with the 40 sparklers we wave in the air to symbolise the years of her life.  We tuck into a great Tiramisu cake from her local cake shop and drink more champagne.  It has been a lovely celebration – Em enters her forties just as I say goodbye to mine!

tn_40 074

“At the age of 20, we don't care what the world thinks of us; at 30, we worry about what it is thinking of us; at 40, we discover that it wasn't thinking of us at all.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Turning 50!

I can’t believe I am turning 50! Except for my creaky knees, my tennis elbow, my short term memory loss and my fading eye sight, I don’t really feel a day older than I did at 30! I am surrounded by cards that herald the big Five-O and they seem foreign…weird…surreal…as if they were meant for someone else. I could handle turning 40. Most of my friends eventually did and we all seemed to be ‘forty-something’ for a very long time. I still remember my mid-life celebration then – quitting my job and 4 wheel driving around Australia for 3 months but that seems like another lifetime ago now...!

As a kid, having a birthday in February meant that I reached each milestone before many of my mates did. This was great when you were sweet sixteen or that grown up age of 21. I still remember the cake my mom made - a key - symbolizing my new found independence although that didn’t really eventuate till a few years later when I packed my bags and left home to study for my Masters Degree in California.

At fifty, I have now spent half my life overseas away from my birthplace Colombo and consider myself a global citizen who lives in Sydney. Unlike those early childhood years my new friends are mostly younger than me. This means I am one of the first among us to turn 50. Yikes….it feels weird. My friend Emma who just turned 40 cheers me up and reminds me that her son Rosco hazarded a guess of 30 when asked how old he thought I was. When he turned up at my party this had somehow blown out of all proportion into – “we are off to Nil’s 41st birthday”!

This makes me reflect on the words my boss has written on my birthday card. “If you didn’t know how old you were….how old would you be?” Fifty sounds old but I certainly don’t feel old. It was only a year ago that I returned to Sydney after traipsing around the world solo. It had been my big sabbatical…a year spent living outside my comfort zone with just a backpack and a smile on my face. I had hot air ballooned over the wildebeest migration, ice climbed glaciers in Patagonia, walked with lions in Zambia and tracked cheetahs in Namibia. I had achieved my long-term goal of spending time on every continent with the trip culminating in a voyage to Antarctica! How could this adventurous girl with a zest for life be turning 50?

Since coming back from my travels I have embarked on a new Creative Journey, indulging myself in my hobbies of writing and photography. They have sparked a new fire within me which has given birth to a new dream - that of combining my love for the environment with my passion for writing and photography. I dream of writing a novel one day and perhaps working for Australian Geographic in a new career as a photo journalist!

But one does not get to fifty without hitting a few pot holes along the way. As a child you believe that everyone’s life follows the well trodden mantra – you know the drill – college, marriage, kids and a house in the suburbs. As you grow up you realize that not everyone achieves or even wants this “dream” and that life in fact is a bit of the good, the bad and the ugly! Life as it turned out was a bit of a fruit salad for me…..full of the bits I savoured mixed in with the bits I wish had been left out altogether. Yet this is what it means to turn 50. By the time you get here you have inevitably experienced some heartache and separation or even the passing away of friends and family you thought as a child would always surround you. The pain is what helps you grow and become a person with empathy, love and caring for those around you.

As the day of my fiftieth draws closer, I begin to fret. My friends remind me it is a milestone I must celebrate but I don’t cope well with big events, especially those I have to organize myself. We decide on a “big fat Greek BBQ - a tradition my partner who is of Greek heritage has often been a part of but never initiated himself. I gently persuade him we can pull it off. Over his parents dining table his mum helps us plan the menu. We borrow their spit and she reassures us, volunteering to help out with the preparations. Other friends and family volunteer their help with food and setting up and it begins to feel less daunting…..except for the one task I can’t colour code in my spreadsheet…sunny weather!

2012 has been the wettest summer since I migrated to Australia. On the eve of our party, it is still raining buckets as our neighbour James comes over and we struggle to put up a tarp in the dark and the wet. We give up eventually and agree to re-start the process in the morning. I have always been a happy, optimistic person. Even as a little girl I have always seen the glass as half full. So far, it has never rained on one of my big parades… I’m hoping for a miracle!

I wake up to a bit of mist and a light sprinkle but there is no time to waste. We begin the process of marinating, stuffing and stitching the lamb. I give Steve lessons in cross-stitch and help as much as I can and we both let out a big sigh of relief when we knot the last bit of string and look on with pride at a lamb ready for a feast. By the time our first guests arrive the lamb is browning nicely on the spit and the sun is shining down on us.

50th Celebrations Feb 2012

The day is hectic but the air is full of the sound of laughter and happy people who have been well fed. We are surrounded by people who love us both and have been there to share the good and the bad. My mum has flown in from Colombo to join us - the icing on my “death by chocolate” birthday cake, lovingly prepared by Chrissa.

As my day draws to an end I open my presents, read my cards and I reflect on the words of a close friend who reminds me I am on the path to achieving my lifelong goal of inspiring others with the way I have chosen to live my own life.


She wrote, ”how much you have packed into the first 50 years of your life Nil – the experiences, challenges, laughs, thoughts and loves. Congratulations on showing us all how to get to 50 in style and how to make the most of life!”

Celebration of Photography

When I heard the Australian Centre for Photography were organising five days of events to celebrate photography we had to sign up at least for a day.  We chose to enrol for a lecture on the history of Portraiture by Kelly Ann Denton. 


Kelly-Ann focuses on the history of portraiture as a genre, and took us on a journey from its inception - mechanical portraits of people posing rather stiffly, to what it has become today, a far more artistic depiction of the human form.  We learn about the key players in the early days such as Daguerre who in 1838 was credited with having taken the first portrait, to the portrait photographers of today such as Spencer Tunic who convinced 5,000 people to disrobe at the Opera House just so he could take a photograph!

The lecture is quite informal and interactive and we are encouraged to ask questions. It is very stimulating to sit in an audience of artistic people, who each have their own take on the photographs we are looking at.  I realise that more than any other genre, portrait photography is all about establishing a connection between the artist and his/her subject and realise that is why I enjoy it so much.  I am not sure when portrait photographers started to capture the soul of their subjects but I know it is what I strive to do.

We have a short break in between lectures in which I have scheduled an interview with a tutor.  He gives me great feedback on my work and encourages me to pursue it.  We dash out for a bite to eat before settling in for the next lecture by Garth Knight.  An emerging artist who was once an engineer, he gives us an insight into his artistic journey and shares images of how he has grown and developed in his work.  We are amazed at what he can do with a piece of rope and a willing subject…

I am excited about the possibilities that may lie in my own artistic journey and decide I want to enrol for a course in Camera Craft.  I have a lot on my plate this year..but it feels important to find time for my own Creative Journey…


“Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph”.  Matt Hardy

The First Day of a New Year: Jan 1, 2012

We wake up late and scramble to get dressed.  My partner Steve is of Greek heritage and celebrating the New Year with his parents and siblings are an important part of starting a new year.  January 1st is not only the first day of a New Year, it is also St. Basil’s Day, a forefather of the Greek Orthodox church and a man who is remembered for his generosity to the poor.  The day is celebrated by cutting St Basil’s cake, the highlight of which is hoping you get the gold (or silver) coin that has been carefully wrapped and placed inside before baking. 

There is a strict ritual associated with how the cake is cut and distributed.  A piece of cake is first cut for the house and then pieces are cut according to seniority in the household.  Steve’s brother Con and his family are away on holiday, so it is just us and his brother Jim and family who are gathered around the dining table at his parents house.  It takes a bit of prodding and probing to find the coin and as it turns out it is Chrissa (Con’s wife) who has struck gold today.  We give Chrissa a call to wish them for the New Year and give her the good news.  We hear the protests of her youngest who had given strict instructions she wanted to be the one to get lucky this year :)!  We stay awhile chatting to Steve’s parents and then sit down to lunch and more philosophical discussions.

I am reminded of how similar Greek customs are to those of my own heritage.  In Sri Lanka, the traditional New Year begins at a time determined by astrological calculations and cultural rituals are strictly adhered to in the villages.  These rituals are conducted at strict times and include lighting the hearth to make kiribath (milk rice), to eating the first bite and conducting business transactions.  Fireworks across the city remind you of the auspicious time for each ritual and it is a day of celebration with family and friends in the neighbourhoods tucking into traditional sweets such as Kavum (oil cakes) and Kokis (crispy sweetmeats we inherited from the Dutch). 

The warm weather of the previous evening has thankfully continued on to the morning and Steve and I make our way to Doll’s Point at Cooks Park for an afternoon of relaxing by the water and taking photographs.  I am planning to enter a street photography competition in London and I chose this park to take pictures in because it depicts the diversity of life Sydney, with different cultural communities coming together to enjoy everything that is quintessentially Australian. On a warm sunny day you can find kids playing volleyball, enjoying a game of cricket or football, mums chatting to each other while dad cooks the barbecue. The entire family will go down for a swim and the cultural mix is again evident in the diverse styles of swim wear on display!  It is a busy place, the ocean and beach separated from the adjoining park by a footpath where mums with prams share the space with joggers and kids on scooters. Against this hive of activity is the incredible backdrop of the world famous Sydney skyline!   Beach life in Sydney is a wonderful example of a public domain where people are spontaneously interacting with their surroundings, allowing many opportunities for candid photography which is what street photography is all about! 

We stop to chat to a gathering of Fijian men playing carom, a game I am familiar with from the sub continent.   They invite us to have a game but it is getting late and we say our goodbyes and make our way back to our car.  It has been a lovely start to the New Year and finally a sense of relaxation takes over.  The holidays are almost over for Steve as he goes back to work next week but I have a little more time to enjoy the holidays and hopefully get a bit of writing done..

Dolls Point Jan 2012 (2)

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life.  A man who lives fully is prepared to die at anytime.”  Mark Twain

Time to Dream: The Promise of 2012

After greeting in 2011 on a boat in Antarctica I began to wonder if I could ever ‘top’ the excitement I had experienced that 31st night.  Yet, I had come home to start a new life with Steve and I knew the joy of sharing a 31st night with him would be exciting and so very special in its own unique way.  I knew I wanted to make the day special, an experience we would both look back and remember as our first New Years day together.  Then it hit me.  Greeting a new year from a boat on the harbour had been on my bucket list since I arrived in Australia and witnessed my first fireworks display from across the bridge in the North Sydney oval.  I had often wondered what it must be like to see and feel one of the best fireworks displays in the world and be part of that parade of tall boats and barges, all dressed up and lit up for the night. 

Getting our tickets online was easy and before we knew we were… on board the Starship Sydney.  We are greeted and welcomed aboard and hardly before we have settled down platters of food begin to arrive.  The 3 levels on the boat each have a different atmosphere.  The bottom deck seems to be where the older people hang out.  The tables and chairs are a little more formal as is the decor and I notice the dance floor which will be overflowing with revellers later on in the day.  Initially we settle on the second floor, a more informal setup that allows us to exchange stories with our fellow passengers and indulge in Spanish paella, King Prawns, an assortment of Yum Cha, sushi and mushroom risotto.  The food reminds me that we live in a truly cosmopolitan city and the accents swirling around me tell me, that even if I am home, I am living in one of the top traveller destinations on the planet.  There are platters of roving canapés that seem to find us no matter which floor we are on, so eventually we find ourselves on the open top deck where the younger crowd are enjoying the fresh breeze of a balmy summers evening and a few beers.  The smell of chicken kebabs on the barbie greet us as we marvel at the spectacular view – the harbour, the opera house and the expanse of open water.  The wet weather that could easily have dampened this celebration has kept away and we feel truly thankful not just for a wonderful evening but to be living in such an incredibly beautiful city. 

Steve gets us a couple of glasses of wine and we watch in amazement as a lone plane is piloted in crazy acrobatic manoeuvres over and under the bridge.  The words “How Are U Going?” are splashed across the sky and I realise I have never been better.  2012 will be a special year for our family as I hope to turn 50 this year and my mum hopes to celebrate her 80th birthday.  Aboriginal elders conduct a cleansing ceremony and smoke coloured violet, blue, green and yellow fill the air above us.  There is a sense of excitement in the air as we witness the 9 o’clock fireworks.  Champagne glasses clink and people hug each other unashamedly as Sydney puts on her first display.  We make our way downstairs to dance for awhile but we are soon back on the top deck watching the parade of tall ships.  How many times have I watched this display from the Sydney foreshore but today..I am part of the spectacle.  We realise how lucky we are to be here and find a couple of seats to enjoy one of this city’s most special moments. 

About half and hour before the magic hour, we make our way to one of the best vantage spots on the boat.  The sense of excitement in the air is palpable and as I glance at the bridge I see various messages flash on and off on the pylons.  ‘Help Eradicate World Poverty’, the sign pleads, which arouses feelings of guilt inside me and I wonder about the sense of the extravaganza we put on to herald in a New Year.  Yes, we need celebrations in our lives but as much of the world is gripped in a global economic crisis, here in Sydney, it appears we still have money to burn! 

An incredible evening draws to a close as multi-coloured pyrotechnics explode off the iconic Harbour Bridge as well as from six barges around the harbour.  One of the barges happens to be just metres from where our cruise ship has parked.  The fireworks explode over our heads and we feel the explosions pounding through our bodies.  A waterfall of light cascades into the harbour as Sydney rings in the New Year.  The theme of the display this year was – ‘A time to Dream’!  I realise for Steve and I, it truly is a time to dream.  We’ve started a new stage of our lives together and we are committed as much to our own individual dreams for each other, as we are to those of our combined journey together.  They are ambitious dreams of a time when we can truly combine the passions of our life with the ambitions of our careers, so we are not constantly struggling to balance the competing demands of them both.  We hope this year will include lots of writing, photography, new discoveries, new friends and travel but most of all we know it will include lots of love…and for that we are both thankful.  Happy New Year!!


“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”  May Sarton