Saturday, March 31, 2007

Day dreaming

My boyfriend and I both took the day off today, to hang out together. Why would we do that, you ask? Because lord knows we hardly see each other, what with us living together, being the anti-social homebodies we are, and having no responsibilities apart from getting to work 5 days a week. Well, Just Because, that's why.

So I went on my usual day-off walk through the woods, and because there was a light sprinkling of rain (the only type they seem to get here in London), there was hardly a soul about. It felt so luxurious to have all that space to myself, inhaling the smell of sodden earth, with the raindrops making chandeliers of the branches. I was basking in the peace and quiet that only a true wanna-be hermit can fully appreciate. Space is at such a premium here in London, and there are so many people crammed into this city, that it does feel strangely like a holiday when you manage to find a space to yourself.

I guess this is what parents (well, mums) mean when they rave about having just the tiniest smidgeon of space and privacy while ensconed in the whirlwind of raising kids, huh? You know, those people who are grateful just to be able to go to the loo in peace?


Wednesday, March 28, 2007


It's funny, the longer I stay over here, the scarier and more overwhelming the prospect of "going home" becomes. I don't know how long I would have to be over here before it felt more like home than...home, but I am guessing maybe never. Home is where your family are. And lovely though he is, my boyfriend doesn't quite qualify as family yet.

I have been over here for four years now - one more year and I qualify for residency. Scary and confusing: although I can see the benefits of becoming a resident (a UK passport would be SO sweet), it seems like a huge commitment to a country I never planned to live in for this long.

The truth is, I had hoped to return home mid-this year. Unfortunately, my boyfriend's father passed away unexpectedly last November, so our long-term plans have been shelved for the moment. I really don't know when I will be going home, which is kind of sad.

Life here still holds that dream-like quality which any expatriate will know about, where it feels like your real life has been suspended, and you are floating in space (like Ripley in Alien). Even though your body still functions - you go to work, cook meals and go to bed just like always - part of your heart remains in limbo, waiting for the return home and to your "real" life. I wish I could commit wholeheartedly to a new life here, which would make everything that much simpler, but I think I will always feel that pull towards home, to my parents and brothers.

Then again, I think it is part of my make up to feel a constant, underlying sense of yearning for some indefinable thing or state.

Maybe I have a restless soul. Or maybe this is just part of the human condition, part of what drives us to live, work, form relationships, procreate. Would I feel this way if I grew up in a remote village with no education or knowledge of the wider world? Who knows. In the meantime, in a less cerebral world, Spring has woken, ever so gently, and the evening light is taking on the most delicate soft pink hue. It is easy to feel a bit more hopeful when your walk home is accompanied by nodding daffodils and snowdrops, lit by this heavenly glow.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Workday flapjacks

These recipe for these yummy apple, fig and walnut flapjacks comes from 101 Cakes and Bakes. If you come across them, these little BBC Good Food books are full of great recipes, which are very straighforward and quick to make. This one is a little fiddly, but very yummy... and no wheat.

450gm bramley (cooking) apples
grated zest of one lemons
100gm dried figs (I used ready-to-eat, which was much better for stewing)
250gm porridge oats
2 large tablespoons golden syrup
50gm light muscovado sugar
140gm butter
tsp ground cinnamon
25gm walnuts, chopped

Peel and core the apples, then chop and stew with a little water over a medium heat until soft. Chop the figs finely and add them to the apple with the zest, and cook for 15 minutes until the mixture is fairly dry.

Meanwhile, melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup over a low heat. Don't let the mixture boil. When it is melted, remove from the heat and add the oats and cinnamon. Mix well.

You are supposed to puree the apple/fig mix, but mine was already pretty smooth - I don't think you need bother. In fact, although you are supposed to make this in three layers, I think you could probably just mix all the ingredients to save the faff. I am all for skipping the faff.

Line a baking tray with some greaseproof paper. Spread half of the oat mixture across the bottom, then spread the apple mix on top. The rest of the oat mixture then goes on top of that. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the top, and bake for 25 minutes at 180 degrees. When it is cooled, cut into pieces as best you can (it will be a bit of a gooey mess).

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Melbourne Dreaming turns one!

Break out the Stevie Wonder and crack the Verve Cliquot! I managed to bust through the notorious three-month barrier and make it a full year of blogging goodness.

I will be celebrating with a glass of Amaretto and some Cote d'or Noir Framboise. Mmmmm booze'n'chocolate.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The dark side of the big city

Of course, living in a big city is hard, dirty and stressful. I have it pretty good; I found work relatively easily and earn enough to enjoy a decent quality of life. But every day here, I see beggars on the streets, migrants doing the jobs that no native would stoop to; and the stupidly huge gap between the super-wealthy and the dirt poor and struggling horrifies me.

There are some people who manage to make the most of their circumstances and maintain a sense of pride, which is humbling to witness. The elevator man at my work is a lovely Ghanian with a voice like Louis Armstrong and a smile like Pelé. Last Christmas, the girls I work with and I bought him a pudding for the festive season. In return, he gave us each a drawing of the plants that are dotted around the building at work, with a heartfelt message about how much he loves nature and always takes time to appreciate it.

That man shines with inner joy and peace, and he passes it on to everyone who brushes by him on a busy morning, numbed though they are to the suffering of the wider world.

Curb my enthusiasm, Larry!

I, like most people on the planet priveleged enough to own a TV, loved Seinfeld.

But, how's this, I was so naive and unworldly that I didn't realise all the characters were Jewish... it took my Jewish ex-boyfriend to point that one out to me. I just thought they were typical Nu Yoricans (and I guess they kind of were). Amazingly, he didn't dump me on the spot for being so flaky.

Much as I enjoyed Seinfeld, I was never tripping over myself to make uninitiated friends/family watch it. Some of the lines wore a little thin after much repetition. Forget Raymond - everybody loved Seinfeld. The canned laughter started to annoy me. The applause as any of the main characters entered the room started to annoy me. Jerry Seinfeld is a very funny man, but the show lost a little magic for me over the years.

I have been meaning to check for myself whether Curb your Enthusiasm (written by and starring the co-creator of Seinfeld) lives up to the hype, and the conclusion I have come to after watching series 1-4 back to back is that it is actually pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty good. Only people who watch the show will get that, but never mind. Actually, I fahked ahp. It is brilliant.

Curb Your Enthusiasm represents the next generation of comedy. It is so much funnier, more tragic, sharper, more complex, and edgier than Seinfeld. Clearly Larry David was destined for better things, and the freedom of writing for HBO has allowed his creativity to flourish. Larry David - the man, the character, the comic - is the show. His love of words and odd phrasings and voices shines through in the comic exchanges between him and his various cohorts. Larry himself is an enjoyable character to watch bumbling around on screen, saying the wrong things, digging himself into holes, and looking bewildered when events spiral out of his control. Each episode weaves together at least three story strands, sometimes more successfully than others, but always with a neat pay-off at the end.

I also love the fact that this show has never hit the popularity peak which Seinfeld enjoyed (being slightly geekier and more subversive), and as such, being a fan is kind of like belonging to a slightly more exclusive club - albeit mostly composed of geeks and writers - compared to the mindless hordes who guffawed every time Kramer skidded through the door in Seinfeld.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Best Weekend Ever

Hola! You know, usually I hate people who fit the description "bright and bubbly", but today I am feeling like I totally get those people. My style is usually 80% eeyore, 5% tigger, 15% Christopher Robin, but today those completely made-up statistics go flying out the window.

I just had the most lovely weekend. Friday afternoon - my meeting finishes earlier than scheduled (4.15pm!) which means I get to leave early. I walk from Embankment Place to Victoria station, taking in the beautiful St. James park on the way, and stop at the bridge to gaze at possibly the most picturesque view in London. I keep walking and all of a sudden I notice the presence of several extremely well-turned-out policemen, complete with old-fashioned Bobby helmets. It dawns on me that I just walked by Buckingham Palace (I have never seen it before). I turn around and go and have a proper look, amongst all the Dutch/American/French/German tourists. The guards are like dolls, they are so still and perfect.

So, after buying a few souvenirs for my mum, I meet my boyfriend and we go get some quick noodles at Wagamama before seeing the show we are seeing, stopping at Marks afterwards for dessert. My boyfriend and I are tight-arses of the highest order.

Billy Elliot, the stage musical, is fantastic – blisteringly energetic, heartfelt, moving, and gaspingly funny in parts. The stage works like a clockwork marvel, with a staircase leading to Billy's bedroom spiralling up out of the floor and back, and streetscapes transforming into a cosy front room and then into a community hall, seamlessly. I am floored, as I always am when I see a big west-end show in London. I hope that magic never wears thin for me.

Saturday, we sleep in until nearly midday. For a chronic insomniac, I have been sleeping well lately. We head down to Islington, and spend a lovely afternoon tinkering around a shop called After Noah, which specialises in retro nostalgia. We buy a load of sweets which my boyfriend hasn't seen since he was a nipper (refreshers, toffo's, sherbert fountains and shrimps) and I proceed to eat them all on the bus trip back.

I make cod and veggies for dinner, with stewed apples for dessert, and we settle down to watch one of my favourite films of last year - Little Miss Sunshine.

Sunday morning, I am dreaming that I can't get to work because my car is stuck in a tight corner and keeps conking out. My alarm goes off and I wake up in a panic, thinking I am late for work. I can't figure out why my boyfriend is so relaxed when I tell him it is 8am already, until he reminds me that we still have one day of the weekend to go. Bliss! Back to sleep.

I make rice pancakes for breakfast (we are going wheat-free for a month). Most of the afternoon is spent working on an identity for a friend. This is the first job my boyfriend and I have worked on together, and it goes fine. He tinkers with my designs, I tinker with his, it is all very co-operative. I walk to the shops and struggle back in the wind and snow with the groceries, but it's OK because there are crumpets with jam at the end of it.

My boyfriend makes polenta pizza (my suggestion), with a bit of help from me, and it turns out to be really yummy. I have not had much luck with polenta in the past - I remember some Jamie Oliver biscuits I made years ago which had the texture and crunch of sand. I think the trick is to get polenta meal (or flour), which is much finer and cooks much quicker.

We watch Clerks II (welcome back, Kevin Smith) and fall into bed...

I want more weekends like that.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Must Try Harder, Mr. Besson

We watched Angel-A on the weekend, a "new" Luc Besson film. I say "new" in inverted commas because the trailer only appeared on very recently, yet it was available for hire at our DVD joint (Archway Video, for the locals). I suppose this should have given me a clue as to the lame-osity of this flick, but remembering the Besson-worship of my university days, I decided to give it a go.

My Besson-obsession began way back in 1994 with Léon. Ahhh, Léon. You were such a sweet, intriguing, truly deadly hitman. I loved the way you dressed up to play charades with a tiny, tiny Natalie Portman; and drank glasses of milk with the gangsters. I worshipped your deep French voice and your little French singlet.

I think Besson could make anybody look cool, maybe even Burt Newton, but Jean Reno directed by Besson was smokin'.

I didn't discover Le Grand Bleu 'til later. Is there anyone who didn't watch The Big Blue and decide they were going to give up their job, travel to Europe, and become an immensely cool free-diver answerable to no one but the vast blue depths?

Or wish they were an incredibly fashion-savvy alien after sitting through The Fifth Element a few years later?

But Angel-A. Deeply, deeply crapulous, poorly scripted and paced, with a leading lady who had plenty of talent in the area of "looking hot in a mini skirt" but none in the crucial art of "acting". And no, Mr. Besson, filming in black and white doesn't make you more high-brow.

I loved you once, Luc, but now it's over. You scruffy, sleazy little French man.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Australian Connection

Even though I work at a huge firm, in a big tower, in the middle of London, surrounded by loads of British people, I have been fortunate enough to have always worked with a small group of other Australian girls. I cannot stress enough how much this has made my living in London a shed-load easier - in fact, I think without that Aussie connection, I would have been on a plane home long ago - boyfriend or no.

I think the British are generally more emotionally distant than Australians, in that they hold themselves a little aloof from people they don't know intimately. Also, most English girls just don't get the typically Oz sense of humour. I was expecting, perhaps naively, a nation of Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French-alikes (incidentally, if you haven't seen their Lord of the Rings piss-take, go to YouTube right now). Instead I got a nation of fashion-obsessed hyper-groomers, with a brittle sort of paranoid humour which isn't actually funny (see: Liz Hurley). They just don't seem to share the down-to-earth qualities that unite us Aussie girls.

Although...I can see how they would find us a bit overwhelming and uncouth at times. Like when we hold burping competitions at the meeting table after lunch.

Conversely, the blokes here seem to have been honing their comedic skills since learning to talk. Some of the blokes I work with are so funny that I often wonder why they aren't playing a regular gig to a paying audience, instead of wasting their talents on a bunch of Aussies gathered around the drinks machine. My boyfriend is also quite funny, but only for me (which I love).

However, when I tire of those witty British thespians, there is something so - easy - about sitting around at lunch shooting the breeze with my fellow Oz-landers. A single recollection will have us all in tears of laughter (Crazy John! The Reject Shop! Hey Hey It's Saturday!), or collectively drooling with nostalgia over long-forgotten treats (remember Summer Rolls? And spearmint Choc Wedges at the pool? The tang of Chicken Twisties and chlorine!). Our backgrounds are surprisingly similar, despite the fact that we hail from different corners of that vast continent - Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne at last count.

Oh, how far I have travelled to realise my inherent Australian-ness.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Songs that are guaranteed to get me on the dance floor

Connection - Elastica
Sabotage - The Beastie Boys
Universal Heartbeat - Julianna Hatfield
Professional Widow - Tori Amos (the The Star Trunk Funkin' Mix)
Stuck in the Middle with you - Stealers Wheel
Crazy in Love - Beyoncé (embarrassingly)

An ongoing list to be updated regularly as more songs occur to me at inappropriate moments.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Morbid thoughts on the 43 bus

This morning I heard the song which I would like to be played at my funeral: Innocence by Luka Bloom. I think it has the right blend of uplifting and heart-tugging, with a really simple arrangement and the beautiful, down-to-earth voice of Bloom shining through.

In other news, what the frrrp?! Those crazy Japanese. I mean, I really don't like those "sock" style ipod holders, but wood wouldn't have been my first choice of material...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Retail therapy - the happiness that only shoes can bring

I almost forgot, I bought these Camper shoes for myself as a 30th birthday consolation prize present - aren't they sweet?

And so comfy. Well, they would be if they were slightly, fractionally, microscopically bigger. I actually caught myself thinking the other day how much easier my life would be if I had no toes. Imagine! I could buy my shoes from regular shops insteady of Freaky Girl and Big Foot Mama.

So that's all fine and dandy, but the only "problem" is, I bought these so early (I needed to wear them to the work Christmas do, y'see), that by the time my birthday rolled around, they no longer felt like a birthday present.

Therefore, I am thinking about also buying this handbag for my own self. Because, like so many of my want-it-now, saving-is-for-losers generation, I am worth it, dammit! And, I really need a new handbag. My old one is so grubby (a bag made of cloth material? In London? What was I thinking?!), I might as well be hauling my stuff around in a sack full of mud. Made out of old hair and dust. I really would be doing my immune system a favour by replacing it with a new, hygienic leather one. I should be the US president: I can justify anything.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Bryter Later

Isn't it funny how the weather can affect your mood so much? I have been feeling generally crapulous for the past 10 days or so, but today I can't help marvelling at the way the sunlight filters through the bare branches of the woods and turns the carpet of dusty green ivy leaves to gold; and how perfect and fluffy the clouds are against a sky so brilliant blue, it must have been freshly painted this morning.

Walking back from the library today (yes, I am a nerd! Why thank you!), I came across some kind of squirrel convention, with at least 10 of the critters running rampant around a particular fallen tree trunk. Usually these little grey fellas get all "eek! a human! run away!" when you walk within 10 metres of them, but these squirrels were obviously in the middle of some deeply important squirrel business, because they didn't pay me the slightest bit of attention. They just got on with the urgent task of chasing each other around tree trunks and skittering amongst the dead leaves.

It got me to thinking - you know, London would be a perfectly lovely place to live if it wasn't for all the other people crammed in here. The weather is really fine for someone who doesn't like the baking heat of an Australian Summer. The insects are benign to the point of insignificance, compared with the constant annoyance of flies and mosquitoes in Oz. And the countryside here is undeniably pretty. I don't think you could apply that particular word to anything about my home country (Rosellas? Kangaroo Paw flowers? Hats at the Melbourne Cup? Pink possum noses?). Dramatic, stunning, beautiful, yes - pretty, no.

There is something to be said about the charms of going for a walk through the Wintry woods, with your hands in your pockets and a scarf about your neck, and coming home all pink-cheeked and fresh. In an ideal world, you would have some freshly baked scones with jam and clotted cream waiting for you. I guess I will have to make do with yet more Mars Bar slice.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Spoiled witless

So, here I am in the 30-35 age bracket - and it ain't so bad. The blow was softened by being taken out to lunch by my work, being showered with presents and flowers and cards, and spending the extended weekend in Vienna. Despite all this, I still get a little emotional hiccup when I read yet another article about how the best time to have babies is in your twenties. Yeah, that advice would have been just soooo useful when I was out picking up idiots and getting my heart trodden all over, singing along to Cornflake Girl and taking "arty" photos of myself for school assignments.

As ever, the best technique I have come up to deal with the nagging discontent and occassional panic, is meaningless distraction.

In this case, trying to recall bits of my early High School German classes as we found ourselves trying to navigate the streets of Vienna without the aid of a German-English dictionary. Luckily, those slightly-scary Austrians all speak impeccable English. And I'd already memorised the most important phrase before we left: Haben sie einen tische für zwei personnen? (Have you a table for two?)
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