Sunday, December 24, 2006

Gingerbread greetings

Have a good one, everybody! See y'all next year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Infected with the spirit of Christms

Man, this is turning out to be the least Christmassy Christmas ever. Not only is my boyfriend grieving and therefore NOT in the mood for festivities, but the office has also been infected with an outbreak of Deadly Chicken Pox for Grown-Ups (and the people who weren't sure whether they had had the Pox as a kid, now know for sure). All this, and the dessert we had for our Christmas dinner last night was bread-and-butter pudding. Let me tell you, bread-and-butter pudding is the most lame-ass dessert ever invented - I know it was a war-time staple, and a lot of British people have very fond memories of stale bread with egg and sultanas, but it really is disgusting. I really cannot convey the full extent of my disappointment.

In order to generate a little Christmas spirit within my soul, I was trying to remember the best Christmas ever. After much thought, I decided it was a toss-up between The One Where I Got My Red & White Roller-skates (why walk when you can roll? was my credo that year), and The One Where We All Got A Trampoline. How my parents managed to keep that one quiet, I will never know. All I remember is the sheer excitement we all experienced on being taken outside and shown our most excellent new present, and the fights that ensued over whose turn it was next. That trampoline was loved to death, all the way through Primary and High school. I did my homework on it, zapped my brothers with static built up on it, sunbathed on it over Summer, and made up crazy-fun games involving the sprinkler shooting up through the trampoline meshing. Ahhh, Christmas in sunny Melbourne.

This morning there was a twinkly layer of frost on everything though, and the holly looked so pretty with the little red berries winking through the bushes, and the sharp little leaves coated in ice. It almost makes up for the fact that my ears have snapped clean off my head with cold.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

In times of crisis...

Sad news on arriving back to London and my lovely boyfriend. A constant supply of herbal tea, fortifying meals, an open ear and hugs on demand are the only things I can think to offer to someone coming to terms with the sudden loss of a parent.

The seasons seems to be in sympathy with us, the last of the cheerful yellow leaves having been swept away by the recent storms. At least we still have a roof over our heads, unlike some fellow Londoners West of the Heath. The sudden bareness of the trees offers some small charms - I can see fat wood pigeons nestling in the bare branches, and catch sight of the odd woodpecker darting in and out.

Time for some stock-taking, both physical and emotional. And of course, more tea.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Home is...

I fly out of Melbourne later today. I hate this part of the trip. Last time I had to say goodbye and fly back to London, I was still crying when we touched down in Heathrow. By that stage, my eyes were so swollen and red and dry that I looked like one of those goldfish with the bulging eyes, but all bloodshot. People had stopped looking at me with pity and started covering their children's eyes and giving me horrified stares.

I have had such a lovely time catching up with friends and especially spending time hanging out with my family - I really am conflicted about going "home" to London. I think it is time to convince the Boyfriend to come out with me, pioneer-style, and start a new life in Melbourne. It is a great town, a little provincial to European eyes perhaps, but with pockets of interest if you take the time to search them out, and a fantastic live music scene. I miss the gum trees and the warbling of magpies. I miss the crazy up-and-down weather. Most of all I miss my family.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Oz Food Fest

Burger rings. Twisties. Two-minute noodles. Mint slice. Snack bars. Tim Tams. Barbeque shapes. Strawberries and Cream lollies. Dim Sims and potato cakes. Solo lemon ("light on the fizz, so you can slam it down fast" - bloody Australian, that). Choc Wedges. Freddo Frogs. Caramello Koalas. Fruit Tingles and Kool Fruits. Ahhh, Australian junk food, how good it makes me feel (in a warm and fuzzy nostalgic way) when I am eating it and how bad it makes me feel 20 minutes later.

Funny how I can't work up the same level of excitement about, say, Australian nectarines or bananas. Apparently I need some glaringly ugly packaging and a host of added E numbers to make my saliva glands start working properly.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Melbourne 1, England 0

Yay! I have been home for a few days now, settling in to life as the "missing daughter". It's great - everyone wants to spend time with me and no one will let me do any housework - but the best moment was finally going through the gates at Tullamarine airport after a hellish flight and being blinded by the beams from my mum and dad. The crying started in earnest at that point, and at the same time I could feel my face break into a massive smile, the kind that takes over your whole face.

First impressions of Melbourne - so quiet and so immaculately clean compared to London that it seems everyone has been scrubbing the streets in anticipation of my arrival. The air smelled so sweet I could have taken a bite. And everyone seems so friendly and forthright. It has actually come as a relief (surprisingly) to engage in that straight-talking aussie way, where people talk to you as if they have known you for years. Even the shop assistants are so friendly you feel like bringing them home for dinner.

Good old Melbourne has put on a brilliant show of weather - rainstorms, hail, ice-cold days which would rival London for bitterness. But I don't care - I have my family to keep me warm!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Dreaming of home...(or at least I would be, if I was sleeping)

I leave for Australia this Saturday morning... right now I am a nervous bundle of excitement and dread at the prospect of going home. Dread, because I have mixed feelings about continuing to live in the UK and I know two weeks is going to go by very quickly. Excitement, because I haven't seen most of my family for two long years. Or my little Pepper-dog.

I have been over here now for nearly four years. Last night, I was reading Clive James' autobiography (highly recommended, BTW) and he made a comment about how, if you have been away long enough, going home constitutes some kind of time travel. A hum of recognition went through me. I definitely feel as though I will be travelling back into my past, revisiting old friends (some from distant high school days) and going back to my old bed in my old room in my old family home, with my old parents taking care of me. Actually, that's a bit cheeky - my parents are incredibly young compared to most of my peers (my mum was merely 23 when she had me).

There was enough of a gap last time I went back (2 years ago), that when I looked at the books on my bookshelf and the CD's on my CD rack, I felt miles away from the girl who lugged her refridgerator-sized backpack to Tullamarine airport, crying helplessly all the way, and waved goodbye to her parents without knowing when she would see them again.

The combination of giddy excitement, stress about making arrangements, anticipation of emotional roller-coasters to come, as well as fear of coming back to the UK, has meant that I haven't slept for at least two months. I am currently a walking zombie, necking Fizzygoodmakefeelnice (ie. Berocca's) and stumbling through my days with only the hazy vision of a Qantas ticket keeping me going.

Roll on, Saturday.

Friday, November 03, 2006


I know in my last post I was despairing about global warming, but BRRR! It has been freezing here the last few nights! Our crappy old boiler was on the fritz again on the weekend, so we survived for 3 days and nights with no hot water and no heat. It was like camping, but even less fun, because at least with camping there is hot(ish) water to be had at the communal showers. At least camping, you are semi-warm for 10 minutes out of the day.

I think our gas bill is going to implode this Winter, because we are just beginning to become aware of the utter igloo-like freezingness of our top floor flat. I never understood that all the houses in London are huddled together and piled on top of one another - eureka! - in order to share as much communal heat as possible.

The bedroom and bathroom at one side of the flat are especially cold. The bathroom floor is particularly bracing first thing in the morning - "like an ice-rink" in the immortal words of the Boyfriend. The bed itself has become uncomfortably tomb-like, so that laying your head on the stone-cold pillow at night is eerily similar to laying your head on a marble slab. I feel like there should be an epitaph etched into the bedhead above us, saying "Here lie two poor souls who froze to death before their time".

I am currently petitioning our landlady for a new boiler. We already have plastic sheeting over the windows and vents. Plastic sheeting stuck up with sticky-tape. I would hate to use the phrase "trading on former glories", but it must said that the proud British Empire is certainly not what it used to be.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Good things, bad things, and slightly catastrophic things

Good things: Four excellent new CD's on their way to my mailbox (splurge-alert), visit home immiment, Christmas only 9 weeks away. Mars Bar slice goes down a treat at work.
Bad things: The world is most likely going to be in serious meltdown by the time my (future) grandchildren have inherited it. If it isn't already. Is anyone else scared?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tempers rise on the number 43

Every now and again there is a little touch of drama on the bus journey - usually to do with some drunken yob making trouble, or packs of seriously scary teenage girls throwing things at you, or maybe just a man of "middle-eastern origin" pulling on a full-face balaclava for no apparent reason (I have experienced all of these, BTW).

Last night, I experienced two extremes of behaviour. A well-dressed black man sat directly in front of me, reading the paper, and I looked up as an elderly white guy sat down next to him. He leaned over a little too close as he took his seat, gave him the loveliest, most winning smile, and asked how his night was going. The black guy was a little on the defensive, being a Londoner, but responded and soon they were engaged in a little conversation. The black guy ended up giving him his paper as he got up to leave. A tiny act of kindness, nothing at all really, but still it warmed my heart to see.

Later on, two extremely drunken, well-weathered 40-ish white guys got on the bus and sat down a few rows behind and on the aisle opposite me. The combined stench of stale cigarette smoke and gin made me wince from metres away. They were talking loudly, in voices which were a mixture of drunken slurring and hoarse raspiness. Everyone on the bus studiously ignored them. One of the men took an interest in a young Yugoslavian girl sitting opposite him, and carried on a rambling, one-sided conversation which everyone on the top deck could hear. At some point, the girl dropped her umbrella (probably out of nervousness). This provoked the turning point for the guy, whose conversation, in the manner of nasty drunks everywhere, took a turn for the worse.

I have been in a similar sitation a few times, and each time it makes me sick to the stomach. I sat there, my heart thumping, while he became more and more abusive towards this poor girl, accusing her of stealing his benefits, his council house, then making threats on her life and safety, all in a vicious, slurring growl. There is no situation more horrible than when your heart is telling you you must do something to stand up to these thugs, and your head is saying "don't get involved". You hear of too many incidents in London which turn nasty for the "nice guy" who intervenes, and invariably ends up getting beaten, mugged, stabbed, shot or worse. I was too scared that these guys would follow me off the bus if I said anything to them.

At one point the girl finally got up and went downstairs to leave, head down and hunched over, his evil words hissing behind her all the way down the aisle. I could feel every insult as if it were a sting. With his target gone, the man resumed slurring to his equally noxious mate as if nothing had happened.

As I went downstairs a few stops later, I saw the girl sitting in a new spot on the bottom deck. I stood waiting for the bus to reach my stop, wishing I knew what to say to her, to offer her some comfort or support. She was doing some work, her face set in frozen studiousness. Eventually the bus creaked to a stop and I got off, too torn over the whole incident to speak to her.

My heart didn't stop pounding the whole walk home.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

O Brothers, where art thou?

I consider myself extremely lucky to have my two younger brothers (whom I miss like crazy). Looking back, I do get nostalgic for my non-existent ghost sister; the one who would have gone shoe-shopping with me, taught me about make-up, and shared those female rites of passage (first period, first serious boyfriend, first heartbreak etc). I completely understand where Juliana Hatfield was coming from when she sang wistfully about missing her imaginary sister (who would have taken her to her first all-ages show).

But for the most part, I was happy to grow up tomboy with two younger brothers who cheerfully submitted to the odd dressing-up game and hair-style experiment. It was always great fun having siblings who would come out into the "deep" surf with me; who were always up for waterfights and paddock-exploring adventures; who would join me at a Beastie's gig when my boyfriend copped out; who would later ask me earnest questions about their girlfriends - and who occassionally gave me a brief glimpse inside the mechanics of the male brain.

Watching these two boys grow into men and try to negotiate their way through the adult world has been a privilege. When I hear the girls at work describe the vicious fights, the competitive bitchiness and the jealousy that defined their relationship with various sisters, I breathe a silent sigh of relief that I was blessed with my two easy-going bro's. The best thing is that I will always have these two blokes in my life, God willing. I so look forward to those days in the hazy future when they each find their path in life - getting married, setting up a home, maybe having some kids - so that I can see them become the men I always knew they would be.

Love you guys,
xxx Big Sis.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Does it mean you have been away from home too long when you watch a film that was shot in your home town, just to catch the briefest glimpse of Melbourne town, and you can barely understand the actors with their ultra-ocker accents?

Can anyone explain why everyone in Australia has morphed into a Steve Irwin-alike since I left?!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Scrumptious new cook book - joy!

This is possibly the most gorgeous-looking cookbook I have ever clapped eyes on, with a lovely, hefty cloth-bound cover and the most beautifully subtle photography throughout. And, bliss upon bliss, I got it for only £7.50, from £25, with a voucher that has been fluttering in and out of my handbag for months. It is "The Kitchen Diaries", by Nigel Slater, a British cook my boyfriend introduced me to - less trendy than Jamie, less girly than Nigella, and nowhere near as fussy as Delia, who seems to assume that we have all freakin' day to prepare our dinners.

I must admit, though, I was disappointed to find recently (in a magazine supplement) that Nigel's own kitchen is an ultra-modern stainless steel monstrosity absolutely devoid of clutter. I was convinced he would conjure up his recipes in an old-fashioned, rustic wooden kitchen, piled high with antique French kitchen implements and hessian sacks full of market apples. The disappointment! Still, this is one beautiful book, which I will try and keep relatively pristine (well, untill the first recipe is attempted, anyhow!).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Trying to a-ccentuate the positive and e-liminate the negative

Grumpy, grumpy, grumpy. Did I ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I was having weird dreams and woke up in the early hours, sweaty and anxious and irrationally angry, like you are when you haven't had a proper nights sleep in weeks. My alarm went off at 7.20am, like always, but I couldn't find the clock to press snooze (bad habit). Turns out it had fallen down the crack between the bed and the bedside table, but by the time I found it, it had shrieked to full capacity and had finally shut up of its own accord.

My commute goes something like this: you start with a very brisk walk to the end of the street, followed by a very brisk walk past two perfectly good bus stops (when the traffic is bad, the buses are jammed full and don't stop no matter how frantically you wave your arms). Grrr. At the third bus stop, a load of people pile off and you can finally get on. Relax; you are going slightly faster than walking and there is less chance of getting wet. Painfully slow journey ensues. At Highbury & Islington, you have to change buses, for no apparent reason. Get to work about 5 minutes late, join the vast crowd waiting for an elevator. Finally get to your desk 15 minutes late. Race over, for now. Feeling ratty, and it's not even 10 yet.

I know it is all a matter of perspective, and I understand that it is an effort of will to remain focused on the positive; but for a pessimistic soul like me, the weight of some days is all out of proportion with my emotional strength.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lior, j'adore

I went to a gig on Monday night at Dingwall's, a tiny venue on Camden Lock. I am ashamed to report that I only just heard of Lior last week - a massive oversight on my part. A quick listen to a few of his tracks on my colleague's ipod was enough for me to fall instantly in love with his music and to be persuaded to buy a ticket for his show.

It was that nice, intimate kind of gig where there is room to sit on the floor and you are only metres away from the artist. The crowd was mostly (possibly entirely) Australian, which meant that 1. everyone seemed to radiate youth and good health; and 2. there were only a couple of wanker-poseurs smoking, as opposed to the typical British audience which is made up of people who can't fully appreciate a gig unless they are inhaling a box-full of Mayfairs.

But Lior... Lior was divine. I haven't seen a performance given with such feeling since I saw Ben Harper. His beautiful, mystical ballads with a ribbon of Eastern influence running through them (he was born in Israel and moved to Australia at age 10) were such a treat to listen to. It was just him, his various guitars, and a girl on cello for most of the night - but for the encore he came out and performed a cappella the jewish prayer for atonement. It was spell-binding. Despite not understanding a word of Hebrew, the depth of feeling was apparent in Lior's gorgeous voice, pouring out of the speakers and into the heart of every person in the room.

I am currently waiting impatiently for Amazon to dispatch the album to me.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Samuel L. Jackson, eat your heart out

Sometimes, in an attempt to alert my boyfriend to his overuse of swear words, I start using the same level of bad language back to him (to shock him out of his complacency, right?). This backfires on me about 50% of the time, as this conversation about the freshness of the bass he cooked on Saturday demonstrates (Mum and Dad, look away now):

BF (after much ranting about how good the fish is):
This motherf**ker was swimming around last week!
Me: He certainly is a fresh motherf**ker.
BF: He was the shinest motherf**ker at the Sainsbury's counter!
Me: The motherf**ker is good, alright.
BF: Have you ever eaten such a fresh motherf**ker?
Me: He is one tasty motherf**ker.

At this point I become aware that we seem to have strayed into Pulp Fiction territory.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

10 Novels that have thrilled me

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts
The True History of the Kelly Gang - Peter Carey
1984 - George Orwell
Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquivel
White Teeth - Zadie Smith
Trainspotting - Irvine Welsh
The Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Fear of Flying - Erica Jong

(This list is by no means conclusive. The author reserves the right to make additions/ommissions from this list at any time without prior notification. This list represents a personal opinion and should in no way be used for the forces of evil)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Culture Clash - the torture of the brit/aussie relationship

I miss home. I don't miss the steering wheel being too hot to touch in Summer, or the need to wear sunglasses during every waking hour (even indoors sometimes!), or the hayfever attacks that left me weeping all through the Spring. I don't miss the bushfires, or the ugly "new" suburbs, or waiting 45 minutes for a bus. What I mean is, I miss my home - my family.

It has been hard, harder than I have let myself realise, to stay in this country when my family and most of my friends are on the opposite side of the globe. If I was blessed with the gift of foresight I may have reconsidered getting involved with a British man... but who thinks about these things? All I knew was, he was damn cute and I had come to London to experience a different way of life. Part of me suspected that I would end up with a British bloke - after all, the aussie blokes never seemed to work out, and everyone predicted it would happen when I left for London. I remember rolling my eyes and assuring them all it would never happen.

There is no getting away from the fact that this situation has created pressures in our relationship - pressures which most couples never have to deal with. The question of "your country or mine?" is still waiting to be answered, dumped in the too-hard basket for now. The sad truth is that one of us is going to have to leave their life behind and build a new one in a different country, without the comforting background noise of family and life-long friends. I am still resisting this, hoping that we will return to Oz sometime soonish to try it out.

I am going home for a short visit in November though, by which time it will have been 2 whole years since I have seen/hugged my parents and youngest brother, and a year since I saw/hugged my middle brother. I can't wait. Seriously, I am twitching just thinking about it.

I just don't know how I am going to cram 2 years worth of catching up into 2 jet-lagged weeks in Melbourne.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Anticipating Autumn

Three good reasons to look forward to the (Northern hemispherical) Autumn - besides beautifully-coloured crunchy leaves underfoot: there are new albums due out by three of my favourite artists.

Amy Winehouse blew me away with her sassy, jazzy, smoky, sparky debut - Frank. This woman has the most amazing voice and some seriously eyebrow-raising lyrics. The new album apparently has a 1950's vibe.

Beck had me from Odelay, way back in 1996 when the uniform consisted of flannelette shirts for the boys and white t-shirts under spaghetti strap dresses for the girls. I have since accumulated all of his albums (even the kind-of-depressing Mutations), but Seachange was the album that made me relegate Beck to always-buy status. His new album apparently harks back to his mid-90's work.

Joanna Newsom is a new addition for me. She definitely takes a few listens to get used to, and a few more again to start appreciating. Her voice is like that of a crazed girl-child muppet, but her lyrics read like snippets of pure poetry - "music deserving devotion unswerving", alright. She accompanies herself on the harp and piano. This is an artist who has really captured my imagination, and I am really interested to hear more of her stuff.

Bring on those brisk and breezy Autumn days, I say; fill your ears with soul-warming music as you pull your coat tighter around you.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A meal worth 6 nights of sleeping on the ground for

We just got back from a(nother) camping holiday in Cornwall... no, I don't love camping that much, but it is cheap and it means you get to eat out if there is even a hint of bad weather - there is no way the camp stove will cope in this wind/rain/mist! My, isn't it getting dark? We can't possibly cook outdoors in the dark! Oh well, I guess we will have to eat at Rick Stein's. Or Fifteen.

We ate at the Seafood Restaurant one lunch, and it was possibly the most lovely meal I have ever eaten. But then again, anything remotely truffle-flavoured has me salivating in anticipation and my fillet of brill with potatoes and mushrooms was smothered in the stuff.

Fifteen was also a good experience, in a wholesome, supporting-local-produce, giving-local-people-valuable-work-experience kind of a way. Even the uniforms were really cute, fresh and funky, in true Jamie Oliver style.

I did manage to squeeze into my wetsuit on a few occassions - in between meals - and do some light body-boarding, but the conditions were wa-a-ay too rough for me to consider taking a surf board out. Surfing is a sport which requires total lion-heartedness to attempt and learn - it is no sport for namby-pamby knock-kneed wimps such as myself. I did manage to stand up for a bit in Venezuela a few months back, but soon after I copped a board in the face and ended up with a badly cut lip and a severely impaired "fearlessness" factor.

Just prior to cutting my face up, I had reached that rare state of mind (for me) where the combination of sunshine and cold water and adrenaline made me look at the board and think "I am going to tame this sucker!" and a swell of fierce grrl-power rushes into your veins. The thing about surfing is, you have to really, really want it in order to do it properly, if you know what I mean. It truly is an all or nothing sport.

And frankly? I would rather be watching those crazy death-wish surfers from the comfort of a good restaurant, relishing the fresh raspberries and licking white chocolate mousse off a spoon. Do I sound food-obsessed? Because I think I may have made the wrong career choice.

Friday, September 08, 2006

6 months in and still not bored of the bus journey

Taking the bus instead of the tube was one of the best decisions I made last year. Miraculously, I never get bored of the journey to and from London Bridge each day - there are always so many people on the street to watch - couples having fights outside a restaurant, cyclists getting into punch-ups with homicidal drivers, and of course the sorry street cleaners at the bottom rungs of this city's economy. Not only do they have the noisiest, dustiest, most toxic job in the world, they have to endure the added humiliation of driving what looks like a miniturised pope-mobile, with whirling brushes attached.

Recently, banners and bus ads have started appearing that proclaim "WE ARE LONDONERS", with the "ONE" highlighted, in big black and red letters. They give me a slightly eerie feeling of hands-joined solidarity tempered with a streak of good old-fashioned fear of being blown up. I was in London on 7/7, and I took the tube to work the day after (my reasoning was, the terrorists aren't going to strike two days in a row, right, I mean - that's just too obvious!). I definitely feel safer on the bus, though, where I can eye-ball everybody who gets on and keep a lookout for suspicious packages/shifty looking men.

I know it is highly unlikely, and that I am probably more likely to be hit by a bus than be involved in a terrorist incident, but the truth is, no one knows when it could happen again, and how bad it will be next time. Terrorism statistics don't count for nothing in my book, because the motivation behind such acts are impossible for white Westerners to comprehend or account for.

Anyway, in the unlikely event that there is a bomb on my bus, at least I will see the sky before I die.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Giving Wizz Fizz a run for their money

Wow! These gorgeous, bubble-gum pink English apples taste just like sherbert, including the fizz. I haven't been so excited about fruit since we went raspberry picking in Wales. Yum!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Saturday morning muffins

These yummy, yummy muffins are taken from my baking bible, "How to be a domestic goddess", by Nigella Lawson. Her recipes are very good, but the best thing about her books is that you can read them front to back - they are written with such a lovely, warm, lyrical voice. Baking has always been theraputic for me, and there is something so satisfying about whipping up a batter and producing a batch of muffins or a cake - the gap between the miniscule effort and the immense satisfaction makes it a very pleasurable experience.

These are called "Christmas morning muffins" in her book, but they are good any time of year!

200gm plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
75gm demerara sugar (I used unrefined golden caster sugar)
freshly grated nutmeg
I clementine (or mandarine!) or small orange
about 50ml of milk
60gm unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
150gm dried cranberries

Combine the dry ingredients. Squeeze the orange/clementine into a measuring jug, then pour in milk until it reaches 150ml. Add the melted butter and the egg, and beat. Pour into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix lightly (over-mixing kills muffins!). Last of all, add the cranberries. I also added some poppy seeds because I love the delicate-popping texture they give.

You can also sprinkle some more sugar and/or cinnamon on top of these before baking.

Cook at 200 degrees celcuis for 20 minutes maximum - check them halfway through as I found they only took about 12 minutes. Makes 12.

Eat at your leisure, or before the blokes in your household get a whiff of them.

Summer fades away

It has been a lot cooler lately, and I am getting that poignant "end of Summer" feeling. Somehow the transition seems gentler over here than at home, where the weather changes its mind almost constantly, and always dramatically, sometimes in the course of a single day. Still, it is kind of a sad feeling, mixed up with the dread of months spent indoors and hours of darkness closing in on the day.

However, there is a little, tiny, eensy part of me which is experiencing a hint of a thrill at the thought of experiencing Winter in London again (fourth time around - can you believe it?!). This year, I will definitely go ice-skating (it is one thing my boyfriend flat-out refuses to do, for the slightly lame excuse of his height. This also excuses him from horse-riding, apparently). I really miss roller-blading and ice-skating is the next best thing. Nothing beats that feeling of gliding along in graceful arcs, weight on your left, then on your right, as though the wheels/blades were a natural extension of your feet. So much smoother than walking.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Kell's Bell's! Recommendations: Part Four

This stuff is delishhhh-ious (Homer Simpson shudder): Rachel's Organic greek-style yoghurt with coconut

This album almost lives up to the (literally) smokin' performance we caught at the Cambridge Folk Festival: Seth Lakeman - Freedom Fields

For all those Pedro Almodovar fans out there: his latest was a little.. shall we say.. over-hyped? Sorry, Pedro, ordinarily your passionate, dramatic, colourful films make me swoon.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Good times

Things have been going very well lately. I have been sleeping, for a start. Last night I got woken up by a text message coming through and I went straight back to sleep. Naturally, being the Harbinger of Doom that I am, I am starting to get a little edgy about when exactly this harmonious period in my life is going to start fraying around the edges, before stumbling and finally exploding into a ball of flame.

I can't quite bring myself to believe that things are this good right now, and I am equally amazed that "good" equals "calm" at this point in my life. For me, not waking up hyperventilating in the wee hours and freaking out every other minute about my status as an unmarried, childless woman approaching 30, is a very good thing.

Dear God that I'm not sure I believe in, please make this charmed spell last.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Land of the great white weirdo

Everyday on my way to work, from the top deck of the double-decker bus, I see a man jogging around the City. Not so unusual, you may be thinking, except that this guy jogs backwards, occassionaly turning around to give a few high-leg karate kicks at his invisible enemies. No, seriously, he jogs backwards, turning his head now and again to check that he is on course for wherever the hell he is going.

This is even weirder for the fact that his chosen stomping ground is smack bang in the middle of the City, literally in the Square Mile, amongst the most corporate crowd in the UK (and possibly the world). It is a veritable sea of grey suits and knee-length skirts with sensible heels, and everyone has the grim, pinched look of a person who would all too happily trample right over you if you got in their way.

It is only middle-class fear that keeps me from stopping him and quizzing him. I would love to shout him over and ask him, first off, why are you running backwards? And secondly, where are you going? And have you ever considered that it might be faster/safer/more normal to run facing forwards? But obviously a man like this doesn't care about things like "normality". Reality is for us uptight, workaday losers.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

When the Sceptic met the Chinese Needle Man

My first boyfriend, eons ago in High School, was a member of the Australian Sceptic's Society. I didn't give a second thought to this at the time (he was also into D&D gaming and fractals, so on the nerd-o-meter, the ASS membership didn't register) - but fast forward 10 years or so to the current moment, and my latest boyfriend couldn't be more different. He is very (ahem) open-minded when it comes to all things New Age, or even Ancient Chinese. I can't really complain about this because 1. I have seen with my own eyes that acupuncture alleviates his back pain almost immediately and 2. a fortune teller told him he would end up with an a girl from a country with a dollar denomination (probably Australia), whose name began with K, J or L (close enough).

So, that's how this dyed-in-the-wool sceptic found herself lying on a table in North London with tiny needles sticking out of various body parts (including my head). I couldn't help giggling at the irony of my paying to be stuck with needles, while just outside the clinic, on the streets of Kentish Town, the illicit drug trade was just starting to creep out from the shadows as the light faded.

I also got rail-roaded into buying some seriously strange looking "herbal remedies" (note heavily ironic use of quotation marks), plus some further appointments for more acupuncture sessions. I am hoping it may help with my on-off insomnia and anxiety issues. I hope I have the right balance of being open to a new, possibly helpful remedy, whilst maintaining a critical distance due to my natural, inherited scepticism (thanks, Dad!).

Just for the record, I didn't sleep particularly well last night, disappointingly. More reports to follow...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

When the creative well runs dry

Yeesh. Some days it is so hard to be creative - I can practically feel my brain shutting down as a result of having to come up with too many creative concepts in the last week. The downside of this job (besides the pay, the insane deadlines, the restrictive clients and the unpaid overtime) is that sometimes, your inner-creative-dude doesn't want to play ball. I have been doing this long enough to realise that this is a temporary state, but it still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

It seems kind of unfair that I am expected to be creative, on demand, on a daily basis. I imagine writers/fashion designers/web developers get at least a few days of day-dreaming and high-end distraction to break up the days of frenetic activity. I guess it is the nature of the beast that is graphic design, which is why it tends to attract neurotic types such as myself (did I say neurotic? I meant hard-working perfectionist who pays attention to detail).

I strongly believe that the downtime is as important as the time you spend busting a gut in this job - it is always during lunch, or when you are out for a walk getting some much-needed sunshine, or staring out of the window that the best ideas come to you. All the more reason to down tools, take a long coffee break and go across the road for a rainbow freddo (do it now!).

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Nation of Bill Oddie's

I think I have been living here long enough now (3 years, 5 months) to make some friendly but bewildered observations about the brits.

Odd things about the British (there are many, but they are subtle):

They pronounce yoghurt, "YOGG-it", as opposed to the Aussie "YO-gert".

Speaking of which, they haven't discovered the joys of frozen yoghurt over here.

They carpet their bathrooms.

Their roundabouts are painted on - so you can drive straight over them if you so wish (brilliant).

They are the worlds most patient people. Which is a good thing, because they have to be.

Garage is pronounced "GA-rudge".

They don't use curtains in their windows - and the windows are never more than a few metres from the footpath/road. The only concession to a bit of "PRIV-acy" is a small but dense hedge.

A new book will come out with one cover, then a few months later be re-released with a completely different cover. This cycle continues, I guess, until they hit a "peak" design which sells the most copies. Odd.

A UK postcode is specific to the actual road, so that all you need to address an envelope is the house number and postcode - eg. 89 N19 3BG.

"Ya alright?" is a common form of greeting, not an expression of concern.

The British are deeply sceptical about cars which are not made in the EU.

You can tell all about a British persons birthplace, family background, moral codes, dietary preferences, criminal intent and educational standard just by listening to their accent.

The British truly celebrate and venerate eccentricity. Have you ever wondered, why couldn't we just take an ice-cream cone - and motorise it? Because I know your wrist is tired from the strain of that constant turning. Well, whoa there buddy, because somebody already thought of it. And you guessed it, he was one of the inhabitants of this crazy island.

Monday, July 31, 2006

She's moving home/Cambridge Folk Festivities

The move went as smoothly as you'd expect, given that I was recovering from a mystery illness and The Boyfriend's back was playing up. We both skipped off work early on Thursday and got stuck in, finally falling into bed at around midnight and falling instantly into a deep, sleep-of-the-deserving type slumber (Note to Self: could this be the answer to my insomnia - the carting of heavy furniture up and down stairs all day?)

I am happy to report that the new flat is about a million times nicer than the old one - it already feels like home. The unobstructed view over the treetops all the way over to Hampstead Heath is really quite amazing. It is like being in a different country - you almost expect to see spider monkeys peering out of the foliage.

Friday night, after moving the rest of our accumulated junk to the new house and scrubbing the old flat top to bottom, we drove up to Cambridge (with matchsticks propping up our eyelids, natch). The following day, despite being barely able to move, we dragged ourselves to the Cambridge Folk Festival - and it was fantastic. I cannot rave highly enough about this festival - it was sooo much better than any festival I have attended before (Big Day Out, Falls Festival, Homelands). It was just the right size, with just the right mix of old and young in the crowd, and the music was freakin' brilliant, bar the "mariachi with a message" group right at the end (although that didn't stop me dancing to them). Standouts of the day included Seth Lakeman, Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, Teddy Thompson and Salsa Celtica (for the dancing and for the mystery artist who showed up in the middle and sang the most gorgeous, heartfelt song with the voice of Janis Joplin's ghost).

Sigh. So many new CD's to buy...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Make-up shake up

I work for a rather large firm, with a huge community of people who rarely see each other except at the odd corporate event. At the last such gathering, it was suggested that we have a "ladies night" just for the chicks in our particular department to get together once in a while, to which everyone of the female persuasion politely agreed.

So, we just had our first Gathering of the Womens the other night (not arranged by me, obviously - I never got further than prep level in "Organisation & Tidyness") - and it was great! We had an evening of champagne, posh nosh and make-up at the very swish Space NK. Of course, being so notoriously shambolic at make-up, I was first in line for a makeover. Pictures to be posted shortly...lets just say, my boyfriend was very happy to see me when I got home, with my new extra-long lashes, expertly applied eyeliner and shimmery, greeny-blue eye-shadow. I didn't recognise the mysterious vixen leering back at me from the mirror.

I tried to recreate the effect the next day for a swanky farewell lunch we were having, but my eye-liner application skills were so laughable I gave up after the first few stabs (literally).

Monday, July 24, 2006

Kell's Bell's! Recommendations: Part Three

A "new" Australian muso discovery (where have I been for the last 3 years?!):

For deliciously "natural" fruit smoothies (in all their lumpy glory):

I didn't take much notice what was happening in Rwanda in 1994 at the time - watching this filled in some gaps:

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Music for uncertain times

Sometimes I feel that I was born in the wrong era, music-wise. Then I remember Thom Yorke, and I feel a lot better about coming of age in the 90's.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hot, hot, hot

Too... hot... to .. type.. must.. find.... life-giving... ice-cream!

It has been seriously broiling over here. And I do mean "broiling", as in cooking in one's own juices, which is exactly what happens to a body if you get on public transport in London in this weather.

Seeing as they still haven't invented teleportation, I have two non-air-conditioned transport options to choose from for my daily commute:

1. The bus.
Pros: Windows allow access to "outside" air (I would hesitate to call it "fresh"). You can get off if it gets really - ie. nausea-inducingly - oppressive. Cheaper; hence more money for ice-cream. Head room.

Cons: Windows only crack open about 1 inch. Seats are made for child-size people; chances are you will spend the entire journey vying for elbow-room with a businessman in a full-length woolen suit. If you find yourself stuck on the Non-Shady Side, you might as well kill yourself now. Duration (1 hour 15 minutes in this traffic), ensuring you arrive at your destination red-faced, dripping with sweat, and harbouring an inhuman hatred for your fellow man.

1. The tube.
Pros: Duration (45 minutes). Free Metro paper to distract yourself from the horror which surrounds you (grasping at straws here).

Cons: Ridiculously, outrageously, hideously packed. 500 different whiffs of underarm BO, all clustered around your face. People who feel it is perfectly acceptable to press their whole, full-length body against yours, crotch and all. No windows. No air. No head room. All ensuring you arrive at your destination red-faced, dripping with sweat, and and harbouring an inhuman hatred for your fellow man.

Time to purchase a pedal-operated machine of the two-wheeled variety, methinks.

Monday, July 17, 2006

London Swelters In Summer Heat Wave

Wow. It's getting hot over here. Amazingly, the weather for our camping holiday in Wales was actually pretty good, with balmy-to-warm days and light-showery nights (except for that one night we camped through the longest, loudest thunder-and-lightening storm In The World). We even went swimming in our bathers on a couple of occassions. No matter that we needed resuscitation and silver blankets to resume breathing afterwards.

Wales itself was gorgeous - huge, practically empty beaches; massive sand dunes to run down; loads of beautiful walks where you found yourself tripping over ruined castles and ancient monuments (check out this 5,500 year old burial cairn); enough surfing and body-boarding to keep my knees and elbows nicely bruised; all with fresh air filling your lungs with every inhale. It's amazing (or maybe not so) that after living in London for so long, clean air actually seems to have a taste - and that taste is good. Almost as good as the raspberries and strawberries we spent picking one sunny afternoon on the farm where we were camping. But not quite as good as the home-made raspberry jam you could buy from the farm shop. Which, by the way, is best consumed on the day of purchase, spread liberally on a fresh, cloud-soft scone, with a generous dollop of clotted cream on top. Heavenly.

We also had a lovely piece of local bass from the fishmongers (so thats what non-supermarket-bought fish tastes like) which we ended up baking in the oven, after smoking out the entire apartment block with our "disposable BBQ" on the balcony. (Note to Self: naked flames and rental properties don't mix. Also: does it mean you are getting old when your best memories of a holiday are all food-related? Never mind).

Anyway, I also got to meet the Boyfriend's extended family - his paternal auntie, her welsh husband and two of their grown-up kids, at a lovely (if somewhat red-wine hazed) BBQ - the proper full-size, outdoor, established kind. She is a very talented print artist and makes a lip-smacking aubergine pickle.

All in all, it was a very good holiday. Ultra-relaxing, with enough surfing and coastal walking activity to prevent one's muscles from atrophying. I just wish I was still bobbing on the waves in Llangennith, with nothing to look forward to except a slightly smoky piece of delicious, freshly caught fish for dinner, with freshly picked raspberries for afters.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Camping, UK style

We are going camping next week, in Wales - a region famous for rain, sheep, leeks and welshmen singing rugby songs in the back of taxis. The 5-day forecast is looking depressingly bleak. This weekend is supposed to be OK (ie. mid-20's), but all of next week is blocked out by raining cloud icons. I have been trying to convince my boyfriend to book a last minute trip to Spain, or Greece, or France, or anywhere the sun is shining and there might actually be a small incentive to go swimming at the beach.

As it is, I hardly see the point of packing my boogie board and wetsuit if the weather is sure to be crappy. I did my time body-boarding-in-the-sleet; crying in the open-air changing rooms because my fingers were too stiff with cold to pull my wetsuit over my ankles; and I hope never to repeat it. Perhaps, if there was a possibility of a hot bath and a large bed at the end of it, I could throw myself in - but crawling through the mud into a freezing, tiny tent after spending the best part of the day submerged in an ice-cold sea doesn't appeal, for some ungodly reason.

Did I mention that we went camping during the Boscastle floods? Oh yes, we were out there, moving the tent to higher ground in the dumping rain (so that we were only under 1 foot of water instead of 2), getting soaked every time we had to leave the tent to use the bathroom, cursing the rainclouds and eating our meals at the local Tesco's.

Contrary to what you might expect, camping is huge over here. In fact, it is enjoying something of a renaissance (witness the Cath Kidston floral-patterned tent). The only teensy, tiny flaw in this UK-wide trend is that: 1. the weather is shit. 2. The weather really is shit and 3. I'm not joking when I say that the weather is shit. There are about 2 weekends in England where the weather is perfect for camping, and it is impossible to predict when those weekends will occur. So booking a camping holiday in advance is a really silly idea.

On the other hand, you can get on a plane and be somewhere ridiculously sunny and hot within a couple of hours...Boyfriend, if you are reading this, please take note. I am starting to weary of your insistence on camping in the UK. Please can we buy a caravan or some plane tickets? Please?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Les Miserables - un triomphe!

On Friday night, we finally went to see Les Miserables - one of those things I have been meaning to do ever since I arrived here all those months/years ago (like actually going to Buckingham Palace and Harrods). I was a bit concerned that it wasn't going to live up to the hype. There was a fleeting moment, soon after the curtain went up to reveal a group of men breaking up invisible rocks with invisible pick-axes, when I got that sinking feeling it was going to be a whole lot less classy than I imagined.

But I needn't have worried - it was fantastic. Apart from that one instance of miming, the rest of the production was brilliant and the singing was breath-taking (literally). Some of the songs had somehow, mysteriously filtered their way into my consciousness (Master of the House, At the End of the Day) without my ever having seen a performance before. But the best thing about it was the way each new scene looked like a glimpse into the past (even if that past did look surprisingly Dickensian for 19th Century Paris). The three hours flew by; the story was involving and dramatic, but never too complex to follow; there were a few moments of light relief to break it up a bit. By the end, I was awed that it was possible to spin such a tale, and take the audience on such a thrilling journey, in such a short space of time.

It was transporting, like good theatre should be. And it has whetted my appetite for more...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Krispy Kreme doughnuts - the work of the devil

Over here, sometimes I hear a snippet of news from home that, due to the distance between my place of birth and where I am now, gets a little blown out of proportion in my head. So it was when I heard that Krispy Kreme doughnuts have made their greasy way over there.

I can't help feeling a little protective of my Melbourne, the city I was born and grew up in. I feel kind of like a big sister figure in relation to my home town (maybe because I am a real-life big sister), and like a big sis, I want to protect my Melbourne from the big, bad, nasty world at large. If I can be incredibly patronising for a minute, there is an innocence about Australia which I wasn't even aware of until I left her sunny shores. My first response on hearing the news was outrage, followed quickly by a feeling of helpless disappointment - another piece of litter strewn on the pathway to American domination.

The problems I have with Krispy Kreme doughnuts are many. Behold:

1. They are seriously, heart-stoppingly bad for you.

2. They promote annoyingly American-product-style bad spelling, which just grates me like fingernails on a chalk board.

3. I don't know how much they are over there, but here in London you could blow your whole lunch allowance on one doughnut.

4. I hate the nostalgic, "1950's Americana" packaging.

5. They have a doughnut called the "Cruller", which features a weird spiral pattern. This is completely unecessary and wrong.

6. Speaking of which, there are just too many varieties. Americans took the concept of consumer choice, and sprinted off with it, turning it into a brain-numbing, zombie-making nightmare of obesity and excess.

7. The ridiculous spin they produce in response to bad press. For example, the "nutrition information" button on the website, which makes dumb people feel reassured by its presence alone.

So there you have it. My personal tirade against the great American bandwagon, rolling over countries like an unstoppable juggernaut, spilling grease, spewing CO2 and rewarding idiots wherever it goes. Please bear in mind, I am the hugest sugar-fiend, and doughnuts used to be the highlight of my week in High School. So I will understand if you succumb and try one of these doughy delights.

Just as long as you don't mind feeling sick with yourself afterwards.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Things to do before I die: Handle a tarantula

We went to the London Butterfly House yesterday after spending most of Saturday and Sunday morning lazing around enjoying the bizarre sensation of warmth (ie. from the sun). It was that or go to the pub to watch Australia get beaten by Brazil in the soccer (is there anybody out there who really thought we had a snowflake's chance?). Anyway, I am SO glad we did, it was a magical afternoon spent chasing elusive butterflies for the perfect shot. There was one in particular which obviously had attention-deficit disorder: it refused to sit still for even a second to be photographed. Naturally, it was the most spectacularly big, irridescent blue butterfly in the whole place.

The boyfriend came along to "keep me happy" in his words, (his sincerity is lovely to behold!), and ended up taking more pictures than me. Also, as you may have guessed by now, we got to hold a tarantula! There was a very sweet old bloke doing demos in the insect house, and as soon as I saw that big, hairy spider I thought, "this is it. I have to do it now or I may never have the opportunity again". For the remainder of his talk, I was mentally preparing myself for it. And I have to say, the sensation of its gossamer-light feet on the palm of my hand was quite... lovely! Not remotely hairy. And of course, because I had done it, my boyfriend had to do it too. I swear this is me in the photo, it was just a hugely unflattering angle for my chin(s):

Her name is Chile Rose, and she really isn't as scary as she looks.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Albino Ladybird

Cute, huh? Man, I miss pets.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Beastly movies

We went and saw The Omen the other night (not on 06.06.06, that would have been too spooky). And while there were a couple of "jumpy" moments - and one in particular made everyone in the theatre gasp and a couple of girls scream - it really wasn't that scary.

The conclusion I have come to is that they (and by "they" I mean Hollywood) just don't make scary movies like they used to, gosh-darn it (slaps knee and pulls comical face). Except for maybe the remake of The Ring, which scared me despite the fact that I was watching it on a dinky, scratched-up screen on an aeroplane, there are no modern films which scare the pants off me like those old flicks (still) do. And The Ring was a remake of a Japanese horror film.

I also watched Wolf Creek recently (Australian, non-Hollywood), and I have to admit, it was quite well done. There was one point at which I had to switch off the DVD and seriously contemplate vomiting. But again, that was more a symptom of the sheer nastiness of one particular scene than legitimate fear.

I think the scariest movies are ones that A) could be real (ie. no pseudo-religious hocus-pocus or distracting special FX), and B) involve a character slowly coming to the realisation that they are completely alone and vulnerable, either in the physical sense or in their beliefs. Rosemary's Baby is seriously spooky, as is The Stepford Wives (yes, it's horror - read the book). Also, The Day After. These are movies with big themes, and possible, really terrifying scenarios - not your usual slasher/bogey-man flick.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

House huntin'

Our landlady has asked us (nicely) to vacate her flat, so we are house hunting yet again. I worked out yesterday that I have been renting now for about 7 years of my life. And yes, I am aware that I could have paid off that groovy beach-front pad by now, but you know what? I have never had a massive deposit at my disposal OR the inclination to settle down in my own bachelorette pad. I think buying a place on my own would have been an admission of failure on my part (failure to settle down, find/marry a suitable bloke, etc. etc.) and would represent some kind of resignation to the single life. Which was too depressing to contemplate, y'know?

So now that I am happily attached, but finding my life at the mercy of the evil Landlady/Overlord once more, I am beginning to question the wisdom of continuing to rent.

I must admit though, house hunting is kind of fun at first - getting to peek in other people's homes and be consistently horrified by the dank, microscopic hovels that people (sorry, agents, sub-human) try to palm off as "compact and homely". I mean, who would be an estate agent? Yes, you get to drive a fancy car and wear a nice suit, but you might as well wear a badge saying "I sold my soul for an upscale apartment and a BMW". The words "slimy" and "estate agent" go together like Simon and Garfunkel.

The entertainment factor quickly evaporates though, with the growing realisation that you will have to live in a 5th floor sardine can or face a 30 minute walk to the tube station each way, every day. The most frustrating thing is seeing what looks like the perfect home, with a big "LET" sign in front of it. In London, you either have to be supersonic-quick, or prepared to wait in a hell of a long queue. Concerts sell out in minutes. Stella McCartney's collection at H&M was sold out within an hour of the store opening. Flats go up on and are let 20 minutes later. And if you want an avocado salad sandwich from Boots, you damn well better get in there before the hordes do, lady.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Kell's Bell's! Recommendations: Part Two

For a political thriller which is beautifully shot, impeccably acted and *gasp* emotionally involving (forget the book), go see:

For extremely lo-fi chill-out music which is surprisingly moving, coming from a lone husky-voiced girl and a clunky piano:

For a fascinating, hand-drawn look at a young woman's life in a turbulent Iran:

For dunking in your coffee and using as a rectangular straw before the whole structure collapses into a gorgeous, chocolatey mess (you can get these at the bigger Tesco's stores now - woo hoo!):

Saturday, May 20, 2006

In praise of sharing digital music

Yep, I'm a believer in sharing the love. Thanks to the ipod revolution, I have literally months worth of new listening material backed up that I haven't even got around to yet. I will be forever grateful to those lovely, lovely people who worked out how to fit a warehouse full of vinyl into your back pocket. I suppose this is what the big music corporations are worried about - that no one will buy new music because we can just copy all our mates files. Well, I am here to refute that claim. In fact, if anything, listening to all this new music has actually caused me to go out and purchase some new CD's which otherwise would have slipped under my radar - because as all music-boffins know, the quality of the music on a CD is far superior to the quality of a much-compressed and downloaded MPEG file.

Plus, there is just something so nice about owning the whole package, with the cover notes and the lyrics and the photos of the artist in varying states of coolness.

Some new discoveries include: Goldfrapp - Black Cherry (I never really got them before), The Delays, the Shins (as sprinkled liberally throughout the Garden State soundtrack), Paul Weller. And, of course, Ray Lamontagne. When I first heard this, I assumed he was some beautiful 70's hoarse-voiced crooner, in the Neil Young vein. But this was actually released in 2004 - and it is a lovely thing to have come across so serrendipitously.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

New specs

Well, here they are. Got a kind of funky secretarial vibe, don't they?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The month that ate my budget

I am already halfway through next month's budget, because of the following very necessary things:

1. New glasses (wow! I nearly fell over when he gave me the total cost of the cute Karen Millen frames + the glare-resistant lenses)
2. New prescription sunglasses (as above, also necessary for driving without careening into other cars due to glare)
3. Very cute green dress for upcoming wedding attendance (absolutely necessary)
4. New shoes to go with new dress as no current shoes will do (ditto)
5. Dentist appointment (teeth are doing fine, thanks!)
6. Hygienist appointment (gums are rotted to hell! That bleeding whilst brushing thing is NOT HEALTHY, apparently)
7. Our monumental Grocery Shopping Extravaganza, the total of which should be able to feed a family of 5 for a month, but in reality feeds me and the Boyfriend for about a week.

And our landlady wants to increase our (extortianate) rent. Yeeesh!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Can't get enuff of that green stuff

I just now got back from a ramble on Hampstead Heath. If there is one good reason for staying in London, the Heath is it. There is no way I would have survived this long if it wasn't for that mind-bogglingly huge green space that takes up most of North London. Every time I walk through the gates and into that green paradise, I have to resist the urge to fall to my knees in thanks to the Powers That Be - whomever it was who decided, all those years ago, that Londoners needed a bit of country-side that wasn't too far a stroll from their urban pad.

The Heath is enormous. There is no park in Melbourne that can touch it for sheer scale. And it is a very different type of "park", in that it seems hardly landscaped at all. It is very natural, bucolic and lovely, with wide green, gently rolling fields of tall grass broken up by various woodland areas and the odd pond for swimming or fishing in. Compared to the wild areas at home, it seems terribly gentle and good-natured, meant for bare-foot walking and gourmet picnics - with not a bull ant or a huntsman spider in sight. The worst that could happen might be getting a wasp bite, or possibly being attacked by a feral squirrel.

And, bliss upon bliss, I managed to find a quiet spot where I must have sat for a good 20 minutes without seeing a soul. You have no idea what a freaking luxury this is in the urban hotspot that is London. During all that time, I had no one but a group of extremely cute squirrels for company, plus a few blue tits flitting prettily around the place, their wings whirring past my head every few minutes or so. The only sound was the cawing of crows in the distance, and the funny vibrating, kazoo-like noise squirrels make to threaten other squirrels with.

As I wandered past the Ladies Bathing Pond (oo-er!) on my way home, I decided I should definitely make better use of this free and gorgeous swimming venue this Summer. When I first arrived in London in 2003, I was totally unprepared for the Heat Wave! (as it was reported in every newspaper), and I would regularly stop off at the Heath on my way home and plunge gratefully into the muddy brown waters of the pond. Not as gross as it sounds, believe me - and your skin would feel wonderful afterwards. Oh my lord, I can hardly describe how good it felt to jump into that cool water after spending the previous 2 hours suffering in the hell that is the London public transport system in Summer, sandwiched between sweaty armpits and being broiled alive in my own juices.

I remember the pond as being a haven of olde-worlde civility, with ladies of every description breast-stroking their way unhurriedly through the weeds and ducks. It still ranks as my top London experience (besides meeting my boyfriend, of course).

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Norf v. Sarf

Here in London, there is a distinct division between "North" and "South" of the river Thames (or "Norf" and "Sarf" in pure cockney) - a snobbish kind of rivalry exists between the two, not dissimilar to the Syndey/Melbourne divide. In these terms, North London is probably more similar to Melbourne in that us Northerners consider ourselves a bit more cultured, more bohemian, more real, innit, and just a tad less try-hard than those "down there". They have Richmond Park; we have Hampstead Heath. They have Clapham Common; we have Highgate Cemetary. They have pubs overspilling with noisy, drunken Aussies; we have poetic winos on the park benches.

The full extent of this divide was brought home to me the other night, when I was leaving work after 9pm, which meant: 1. Free Dinner; and 2. Free Black Cab Home (one of many perks, including: 3. Paid Overtime, unheard of in the Melbourne design world). So I was standing in the queue, behind an obviously "South London" girl (groomed, pushy, obnoxiously trendy). The first cabbie to pull up wouldn't take her, as she was going South and he was heading home up North. So she pushed her way ahead of me as I was heading towards the second cab, waving her highly manicured fingers frantically and affecting an attitude of "if I don't make eye contact, she doesn't exist" towards me.

But the cabbie had already made the snap judgement that she was a Clapham Try-Hard, and I, with my unkempt hair and scuffed, flat shoes, was a North London Person of Artistic Integrity - and he gave priority to me! Brilliant! And all the way home, he spun me tales of how much he hates "those pushy Clapham types", who "wish they lived in Kensington" and how he tries to screw them over wherever possible, just because it gives him a thrill.

I am not sure where his unearthly hatred of all things southern came from, but I was too grateful for the lift home to do anything but agree with him.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Kell's Bell's! Recommendations: Part One

For listening to while driving along a winding coastal road with the sun breaking through the clouds:
Tori Amos - Scarlet's Walk

To remind you what a tragi-comic genius Woody Allen was back in the day:
Crimes and Misdemeanors

For the most delicious dark chocolate/berry experience this side of a Cherry Ripe:
Cote D'or Experiences Noir Framboise

To remind you that your family isn't all that crazy, comparitively speaking:
My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell

Monday, April 24, 2006

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

I've never really been a "girly" girl. You know; the girl who applies make-up expertly from the first day of high school; who can't wait to buy her first pair of high heels; who spends long, giggly afternoons with her sisters/friends in the "boudoir" acting out the romantic scenes from Top Gun and swooning over Tom Cruise. (Well, alright, I did have a bit of a thing for Keanu Reeves in Point Break).

I am a strictly no- to low-maintenance girl (don't shave in winter, make-up inexpertly applied and worn sporadically, never owned a blow dryer).

So how the hell did I end up with this hair??

This hair that reaches nearly to my bra strap. This hair that gets caught between my back and the bus seat, so that I can't tilt my head forward. This hair that is a tangled mess in the morning if I've had a restless night. This hair that is too long to tie back in the old "looped-through ponytail".

This hair that makes me look like Marcia Brady.

I have to agree with my boyfriend, however, that it is a marked improvement on the short, red, lesbian crop which features on my old drivers licence (horror!), and the short, blonde, lesbian crop which features on my passport. Not to mention the gelled-up double-fringe which was the bane of my early highschool years. I can't look at any pictures of myself circa 1989 without hyperventilating with shame.

Lately I have been wondering how much my lustrous/lank locks (depending on how close/far away wash day is) would earn me should I decide to sell them to some upper-crust wig-makers. For a few hundred squids, I would be thinking hard about returning to that lesbian crop.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

All creatures creepy and crawly

So, Spring has finally arrived (2 weeks late! Tut, tut, Big Guy). And with it, a horde of insects who all decided to come out of hibernation this Easter weekend. I was lucky enough to spend the weekend in the country, going on long walks, breathing deeply and saying things like "ah, yes, the sweet taste of fresh air - how I remember it from days of yore", and enjoying the boisterous company of Jack the border collie (and the in-laws, of course).

All of a sudden, everywhere I looked there were lady-birds. Now, I may be getting mildly myopic in my old age, but close-up details in my immediate surrounding are still pretty sharp - and a shiny red thing, no matter how small, stands out against a green/brown background. And there were loads of these cute, shiny little things out and about - climbing up monumental grass shoots, hurrying along branches on invisible legs, humping in the lawn.

I also saw my first bumble-bee of the season - and believe me, these couldn't be any more different from your typical Down Under bee. Picture a fuzzy pom-pom buzzing around, about the size of a malteser, on his way to a Richmond v. Carlton match (barracking for the Tigers, of course).

But it's not all non-threatening cuties in the insect world, of course. When we got home yesterday, we had a few creepier things to deal with - firstly, a big mamma wasp in the bathroom (that got my boyfriend out of the bath quick smart), and secondly, a daddy-long-legs which came in through the kitchen window. Now, I know you're thinking "Daddy long legs? Pff! Try a huntsman or a redback, lady!" - but there is one crucial difference between the Daddy's at home in Oz and the British-style ones, namely, the Brits have wings. Actually, I think it's the idea of a "flying spider" more than the actual creature that is a little scary - it is basically nothing more than your standard daddy-long-legs model, with 4 wings like miniature helicopter blades. Typically seen weaving through the air towards your face in a drunken manner, especially when you are making dinner and both hands are full.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I can't get no sleep

Bleeearrrrrgh. I have not been sleeping very well lately. Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I am not a good sleeper - the bags under my eyes are one of my defining characteristics. There are a few London-specific factors which are not helping. One is the fact that London never actually gets dark, it just kind of glows orange for a while (hence the eye mask - cute, huh?). Another is the sudden boost in temperature. And yet another crazy thing about living in this city is that the birds get really confused by the lack of day/night distinction and start singing at around 4 in the morning.

Crazy birds! What I would give for a great big, warbling magpie to scare all those wimpy little robins and sparrows off.

Oh well, at least we are no longer living next door to the "psycho beast", a woman who used to scream at her children all day long and have violent fights with her boyfriend all night, before calling the cops out for the weekly stand-off in the middle of the street.

Ah, London!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ugly veg

Not attractive, are they? These knobbly little wonders are Jerusalem artichokes - and I am in the process of transforming them into soup. Ever since I tasted a bowl of heaven in the form of "Jerusalem artichoke soup with white truffle oil" at a restaurant in Kew - a little village east of Melbourne - many years ago while I was working at kbr design, I have kept the recipe idea tucked away at the back of my brain for future use.

The other day, serrendipitously, I came across some reduced packs of them at Waitrose - 20p for 500grams, which is a bargain. That no one wanted them possibly has something to do with the fact that people will no longer buy ugly fruit/veg - for instance, there is a delicious variety of nectarine which used to be grown here, called the "Fantasia", but because it is a funny yellow colour with spots, no one will buy them. We have become so used to perfect, regularly-shaped, blemish-free produce that anything less will be rejected - what is this world coming to?

The National Trust is fighting back with an "Ugly Veg" competition. I do have a soft spot for these "runts" - my Dad has been secretly backing ugly veg for years. Whenever he spotted an odd or slightly rude shaped vegetable, he would always make a point of buying it and giving it pride of place on the kitchen window sill. Lovers of two-legged carrots and bum-shaped apples, unite!

Friday, April 07, 2006

London in the Springtime

Well, somebody was obviously listening to my original post, because every day this week we have woken up to a *brilliant* blue sky with sunshine bursting through the windows! I had almost forgotten that most agreeable sensation of the sun warming your back - so much more glorious and benevolent than the pathetic effort that the radiators manage.

I even went down to the newsagents last weekend in my thongs!! (The British insist on calling them "flip-flops" but I refuse to budge). The whole way, I was marvelling at how great everything looks in bright sunshine, and how nature and the flowers seemed so...grateful. Cherry blossoms up and down the street have all burst into flower almost overnight.

If only my relationship was so easy to keep happy - a little water (praise), a little sunshine (love & affection), and everything comes up roses. Instead, we are struggling to keep this fragile little plant alive in the current (emotional) climate...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

On the buses

This is a pic taken from the front seat of the top deck of my bus - the number 43 from Frien Barnet to London Bridge, via my house. I don't usually ride right at the front, as it takes the hair-raising effects of being two stories high and in the charge of a maniac to heart-stopping levels.

Ah yes, London loves its buses...even more so since the introduction of the Congestion Charge in Zone 1, which the likes of Madonna (sorry, how many MIL did your last pathetic album earn you?) have been moaning about. To which I say, get your sorry ass into a peak-hour bus seat and shut up.

There is something quite majestic about being ferried around the city at a (jerky) snails pace, sailing in and out of traffic and feeling like a look-out in a crows-nest. Of course, there is also the added excitement of the odd cyclist/bus driver standoff - a kind of a modern-day, urban David & Goliath scenario where each tries to edge the other out of the bus lane, preferably without killing the cyclist.

I have read somewhere that being a bus-driver is one of the most stressful jobs around; largely because of the lack of control you have over your circumstances - ie. the horrendous traffic; and the ever-present risk of violence on board.

Well, heres to the London bus drivers - who have contributed in getting me to work and back (mostly) on time over the last few months, in their cheeful red vehicles - always a welcome sight. I don't miss the tube in the least.

Monday, March 27, 2006

That Monday feeling

Daylight savings begins today! Yay for more light in the evenings and less light waking me up at 5.30am every morning. Boo for having to get up an hour earlier today, though.

Very handily for all international jet-setters, daylight savings in Melbourne usually ends at the same time as it starts in the UK (making the time difference 9 hours instead of 11)- meaning, happily, that my window of opportunity to phone home is slightly wider. Good news when you have trouble getting up before 10 on the weekends.

On a completely different note, it occured to me recently while discussing my foray into blogging with my boyfriend, that maybe this venture is just a way of trying to come to terms with where I am at this point in my life. It seems to me that a lot of single/unmarried chicks around my age (approaching 30, since you ask) find themselves at this rather awkward age where you very slowly start to become aware of the glaring gap where you thought the husband/1.4 kids/family home would be.

Some women start throwing themselves into the gym (this could be literally any one of the women I work with); some take on slightly wacky new projects (hello!), some comfort-eat tubs of Ben & Jerry's on a nightly basis - heck, some probably attempt all 3 at once.

At least I still have the music to comfort me. Rabbit Fur Coat is brilliant new album by Jenny Lewis (with the Watson Twins on back up) - a sweetly subversive collection with big-hearted, faith-affirming vocals. I haven't been so excited about a new musical discovery since Martha Wainwright:

Friday, March 24, 2006

Dog heaven

Pepper basking in the sunshine at home in Melbourne (I swear she is a cat on the inside). Posted by Picasa

Why blog?

Because everybody else is and I want in on the action!

No, not really. Because I like to write and this is a good way for people at home to keep up with my London misadventures. Because I feel like I have a lot of ideas to share, but once a thought occupies my brain for the length of a bus journey/lunch break/kettle boiling, it disappears and is lost forever (yes, I have the memory-span of a goldfish. A particularly vague goldfish who gets easily confused). Because I am feeling a little isolated over here. And yes, because I'm (secretly) hoping it might lead to something or somewhere.. different and exciting.

"Melbourne dreaming" refers to me missing my home town of Melbourne, Australia, and to the quite possibly rose-tinted view I have of my home town after being away for over 3 years. The song "California Dreamin'" pretty much sums up my mood at the moment - the London winter feels interminable, despite a couple of bizarrely sunny (but still cold) days which have been thrown in the mix just to cause confusion. Everybody here is reaching that "approaching end of hibernation" point where the cold weather and trapped indoor-ness is starting to feel less cosy and frustrating.

I can picture myself as a teenager, lying on the trampoline in the backyard, summer breeze lazily drifting over my inert body. The "tramp" was the ideal summer reading spot for several reasons:

1) it was black and therefore, soaked up the sun's heat like a cat;
2) despite the above, its handy open-weave material meant that it never got as hot as, say, the vinyl seats in my Pulsar; and
3) it kept you suspended (hammock-like) above the ants and scratchy grass blades below.

Looking foward to summer.... what an understatement.
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