Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Mithras!* (or something)

I do love this time of year. I am not religious at all, mind you. I just like the idea of a celebration at the end of the year where you get to spend time with loved ones, eat lots of rich food, sing along to Mariah Carey and give lots of presents. I'm not so hot on the idea of celebrating the birth of Jesus. I prefer to think of the festive period as an extension of an ancient, ritual-filled Pagan festival.

It always makes me cock a skeptical eyebrow when Western religious leaders lament the loss of the "true meaning of Christmas" each year. Long before Christ popularised Jesus sandals, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the feast of the Son of Isis (Goddess of Nature) on December 25; involving wild partying, gorging on food and drink, the giving of gifts etc. There was Saturnalia in ancient Rome and Yuletide in Northern Europe, both of which are Winter Solstice festivals.

Certainly in this part of the world, there is never a greater need for a hearty celebration than on the shortest day of the year, just as the cold and gloom and overbearing darkness are becoming seriously oppressive. Just imagine what it would have been like before the invention of central heating, fairy lights and bad telly.

I'm not an avowed atheist, but I went to see a secular-humanist Christmas show Sunday night. It was brilliant - Stuart Lee impressed me with his wry delivery - "..when I look at something as complex and intricate and detailed as Professor Dawkins I think, 'Surely that can’t just have happened by chance.’" Jarvis Cocker sang beautifully about fate. Ricky Gervais tried out some (pretty crappy) new material. Robin Ince was charming as the geek in his element running the whole thing. Richard Dawkins did some surprisingly moving readings from Unweaving the Rainbow, and fellow Aussie Tim Minchin ended the night with a searing 9 minute beat poem in which he rips a New Age bimbo to shreds.

Anyway, whatever your beliefs, I implore you all to hold your loved ones close this Festivus - hug them and tell them you love them, hold their hands, ignore their short-comings for one day. Stuff your faces and give thanks for all the good things in your life. Wonder at the beautiful world around you - even in London in the middle of Winter, the bare branches make a beautiful pattern against a moody grey sky; mud squelches deliciously underfoot, and there is a hint of bonfire smoke in the cold air. There are so many tiny, simple, wonderous things to enjoy if you stop and notice your surroundings.

See you in the New Year!

*Pagan sun-god. Winter Solstice was the celebration of his birth - as the seasons change he grows stronger and warmer and brighter. Makes more sense than that whole "virgin birth" story, you have to admit.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Hot List*

1. Jemaine Clement & Bret McKenzie
Geeks + facial hair + the funny = volcanic hotness (nb. they only work as a pair).

2. Dave Grohl (circa 1997)
It's the combination of the rocker hair and the goofy smile.

3. Gael Garcia Bernal
Gael has the stunning eyes and exquisite cheekbones (and is definitely in touch with his feminine side)...

4. Benicio Del Toro
...but Del Toro has the hulking presence, the squint, and the dangerous streak.

5. Dylan Moran (as Bernard in Black Books)
Grumpy, surly, Irish, drunk - and all the more lovable for it.

* * * * *

Special Mentions

6. Jason Schwartzman
Love the eyebrows. And the eyes staring out from beneath them.

7. Zach Braff
Cute, funny, well-written. Ka-ching!

8. Richard Gere (in An Officer and a Gentleman)
Jesus, I never knew what the fuss was about until I watched this for the first time just recently.

* * * * *

Weird but good

9. Andrew WK
The wildcard - a piano-playing metal-head with brains. Lethal!

10. Jon Heder
Girly, goofy, mormon - yet hot.

11. Noel Fielding/Vince Noir
I know I'm not alone on this one.

12. Chevy Chase in the 70's
Those sideburns. That smirk. Ouch!

* * * * *

*you know, the 5 people you're allowed to cheat on your partner with if said crush was to happen to be in town and you happened to be sitting in the same bar and were drawn towards each other by an IRREPRESSIBLE force of nature. But I seem to have accumulated 12.

Whaddaya gonna do with all the hotness in the world?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Plan B

I feel I have been neglecting this blog somewhat since coming back from New York. Or perhaps I should say, coming down from New York. It was such a blissful chapter in my life.

It was hard coming back to reality. Back down to earth (literally - in New York I lived on the 29th floor and worked on the 30th, and spent many happy hours on the roof terrace of my building). Back to a job that has become rather uninspiring. Back to paying rent and bills. Back to a choice of two types of media: trash or doom; the only exception being the coverage of the US election. Even the notoriously gloomy UK media couldn't ignore the jubilant sense of hope beaming off the great American public in their coverage of the Obama victory.

Back to London in Autumn, which very quickly turned into Winter.

It hasn't all been bad - I have super busy going to loads of gigs and fun events, and there have been some interesting developments on the relationship front.

But it's fair to say that it has been a struggle. For a while there I really thought I was going to have to move back to Melbourne. I just couldn't see how I could possibly cope with living over here on my own any longer. Having my parents here was wonderful, blissful, so much fun - but when they left, I felt utterly bereft of their presence. All of a sudden, my world shrank. I was in a city on the wrong side of the world, heading into a particularly bleak Winter, and I don't think I have ever felt quite so scarily, overwhelmingly alone.

In reality, I am not alone. I have a small circle of friends here, and my great work colleagues, and my lovely flatmate. I have friends at home in Melbourne with whom I have (admittedly sporadic) contact. I have a brother in Sweden, practically next door in Australian terms. And of course, my parents and youngest brother are only a phone call (and a time-zone) away.

It has been a time of reflection and internal change for me. I guess I always assumed that at this point in my life, my main focus would be on having my own family, so I must admit (somewhat shame-facedly, given my feminist credentials) that I never focused that much on my "career". I just came out of Uni, looked for a job, stayed there until I got restless, looked for another job - and so on. It was a sense of needing to escape that drove me to London. I learnt one of the first big lessons of my life: that you can't run away from yourself. Hence my decision to stay in London for the moment - moving back home is not going to solve any of my problems (except the lack of parental/younger-brotherly contact) and would probably just create more complications than I can cope with right now.

So now I find myself at a cross-roads. I know I need to make some positive changes in my life; but what might they be? New job? New career? Back to Uni? Back to Melbourne? Go travelling? Become a mentor? Take up yodelling? For a person as change-resistant and cautious as myself, this is a scary time. But I am trying to take it slowly, in manageable chunks, taking small, exploratory bites before I make any big moves. I have started by booking myself into some short courses and introductory sessions to things that interest me.

2009 is going to be the year of self-development, y'all. I even bought a journal. An old-fashioned, lined paper journal. For writin' in. I'm not even sure I remember how to hold a pen.

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Library anarchist on the loose

Let's just say that no one will be borrowing this charming little "documentary" from my local library in a hurry...(snicker)

When things get ugly, I'm gonna be on the side of the polar bears.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Disturbing but true

Recently I found myself agreeing with that posh twat Boris "let's vote him Mayor of London for a laugh*" Johnson not once, not twice, but on three separate occassions. Holy what in the hell?

Occassion one was his defence of cyclists riding through red lights, which, as any rider in the Capital knows, is actually very sensible for anyone who values their life over following the letter of the law. I can't find a link to this, but I read it in freesheet The London Paper, so it must be true.

Occassion two was also cycling related, when I found myself nodding along to this rant about "catatonically oblivious pedestrians" causing more problems for cyclists than cars, bendy buses, or white van men.

Most recently, Boris professed his Obama-love despite his more right-wing supporters getting in a flap over it.

The world's gone wrong, patently. Except in matters of the US presidential election, obviously, where things have finally gone right.

*Don't blame me, I didn't vote for him.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ouch! Not to mention Brrr!

It's been a stressful day at work, and changing into my bike gear in the over-warm changing room, I try to ignore the tiredness in my body and hope that it will be forgotten as soon as I get in the saddle.

Outside, it has been dark for an hour or more already (blimmin' English Autumn, innit?), and the first drops of rain hit me as I unlock my bike. My heart sinks a little - this doesn't feel like the usual gentle shower - as I wheel my trusty bike out of the courtyard, the gate clanging shut behind me. I heave an inward sigh as I realise my front light, whose plastic face went missing a few days ago, has completely fallen off without me realising. Great. Now I'll have to ride home through the city in the rain and dark, with no front light.

As I pull out onto the road, the rain gets heavier. I grit my teeth and carry on, wiping my glasses at the red lights, waiting patiently for my body to warm up a bit. It doesn't take too long. By the time I have crossed Southwark Bridge, standing up to pedal the slight incline, I am feeling warmer despite the cold raindrops.

The rain gets heavier, big splatters hitting me and obscuring my vision. I can feel my face taking on an expression of grim determination; forehead down, mouth set, eyes narrowed.

I pedal on.

As I cycle towards Old Street, I notice that the rain is really getting quite insistent. In fact, I can feel the individual drops hitting the front of my arms and tops of my thighs, and my face stings from the assault. It feels exceptionally cold; almost like tiny bullets of ice hitting my face as I rush through the dark streets. Probably because it is ice. It's hailing. Lightening flashes overhead as I dodge people hiding under umbrellas, rushing to make it to the nearest bar, the nearest respite, not watching where they're going.

My face, the only exposed part of me, is really stinging now, but I am determined to make it home and the hailstorm only spurs me on. There are chunks of ice caught in the folds of my gloves. I feel surprisingly cheerful.

I pedal on, taking stock as the hail finally lets up and the rain takes over once more.

I am completely soaked. Water runs down the underside of my arms and fills up my gloves. My tracksuit pants are getting heavier and heavier, dragging at my legs. My shoes are filling up. Water runs down my face and funnels into the corners of my eyes, as I try to blink away the remnants of mascara that are making them sting. I can barely see; luckily the road is fairly quiet. Now my underpants are starting to fill up with water. I take a moment to consider this novel (and rather disturbing) sensation, and pedal on. Not far now.

Riding the last stretch towards home, I don't bother avoiding the (now massive) puddles. What's the point? I can't get any wetter. I keep this thought in mind as I put my bike away and stand at the front door in the rain, pulling my gloves off and struggling to open three sets of locks.

Finally, I am inside. I stand dripping in the hall, feeling like I should somehow record this moment, having survived the rather epic journey home. Instead, I pull off my sopping wet clothes and jump into the shower, marvelling at my bright pink arms and thighs which look as though they have been dunked in boiling water.

My mood has lightened considerably. But I wouldn't want to do this every night.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lookout - gig avalanche!

Where to begin? I have so much gig-ly goodness booked for the next few months, just flicking through the dates marked in my diary is giving me an anticipatory thrill. I had promised myself that I would start going out and seeing more stuff in London after I had such a wonderful time making the most of New York. In reality, I have been struggling to settle back in, and as a consequence I just haven't had sufficient motivation to get myself out there.

But now I'm back baby - or at least on the way back to usual capacity. I have been feeling the faintest blush of optimism recently, and oh my goodness that is certainly welcome after so many up-and-down months, lightened only by a wonderful couple of weeks with my parents.

But enough about me! Onto the fun stuff!

Murray from Flight of the Conchords (otherwise known as Rhys Darby) at the Riverside Studios. Gentle, funny, and a little bit geeky. Not actually that far off Murray then. But where poor Murray is a bit of a loser, Rhys is definitely a winner, or a wunner as he would say in his charming New Zealand accent. FOTC has given me a much greater appreciation of all things from that exotic land; and I was most impressed to see that the New Zealand consulate had booked the first two rows and a special place at the bar for pre-gig drinks. They must be fun to work for.

Rhys has some killer sound effects up his sleeves, and uses them to great effect in describing exactly how much of a geek he was as a kid. Who needs friends when you have your own jetpack? In fact, who needs a girlfriend when you can have weird, bubbly underwater sex with a mermaid in Brighton?

The Mighty Boosh at the Brixton Academy. So, so much fun; like a glam rock concert but with comedy and even more outrageous costumes. This was two hours of the most joyous, raucous, shambolic mahem I am ever likely to witness. It was worth it just to see Bob Fossil in pink spandex (over his zoo-keepers outfit, obviously), teaching the audience some new dance moves. And for the sight of Noel clad in scandalously short gold loincloth, blonde wig, silver breastplate and angel wings during a hilarious routine contrasting Vince's electro-glam vision of the future with Howard's bleak apocalyptic one.

The boisterous crowd obviously shared the boys' enthusiasm for a bit of creative costuming, and had devoted many happy hours - sewing machine and glue-gun in hand - to putting together some fabulous outfits in homage to the show's characters. There was a lady in a mirror-ball suit, a scarily realistic crack fox, many Hitchers, and a few Old Gregs (male and female, appropriately).

I was so caught up in the excitement, I bought my first ever tour T-shirt!

Luka Bloom at Bush Hall. Any boys who may be reading this, listen up (read up?), because I won't repeat this. If you ever want to seduce a lady-friend, take her to a Luka gig - preferably in a beautiful old-timey hall of intimate proportions. Trust me on this.

The most enduring impression I had was of a man utterly suffused with his music; radiant with love for his fellow man (or more likely, his fellow woman), doing what he was born to do. His guitar is so much a part of him, it is like a beating wooden heart sitting against his chest, producing the most wonderful silvery sounds. And then there's his voice - rich and warm and flowing like a river (except when he's berating the audience for sitting down at the front like it was "feckin' woodstock"). Sorry, Luka!

I must confess, I don't know much of his back catalogue, but every song was a joy to listen to. I particularly enjoyed the stunningly lovely Joy of Living, the "one people" message of Tribe, and Sunny Sailor Boy with the crowd singing along to the chorus in hushed tones.

The Acoustic Motorbike, a rythmic ode to the benefits of cycling, is my new riding anthem. Not that I listen to my ipod when I ride (do I look like a suicidal bike-courier?), but this will definitely be running through my head as I pedal on, pedal on through the streets of London, not quite "the Kerry mountains or the Wicklow hills", but possibly "the antidote to my emotional ills".

As for his rendition of Monsoon, well, let's just say any bloke who takes his lady-friend to see this performed live is guaranteed to be struggling to get his coat on and running to keep up with his woman the minute the gig ends.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Things I learned about classical music (from watching one performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra)

The clarinet is the most melancholy of all the instruments.
Flutes are the most light-hearted.
French horns sound impending doom.
Trumpets add a sense of urgency.

The organ is so large, it is easy to overlook. The effect is one of your vision zooming out in stages, so that you take in one set of pipes before realising there is an even bigger set next to them; and a truly epic set right next to those. Also, the organist gets to sit with his back to everybody, including the conductor, so he has two special little TV screens to keep him in the loop. Neat (in both senses of the word).

The trombonists generally just sit there looking portly.
The violinists are the most numerous and noticably busy of all the instrumentalists.

The solo soprano gets to upstage everybody else in sartorial terms - think cherry red, floor length show-stopper with plunging neckline and a train trailing obsequious in her wake.

The conductors's hands float in an hypnotic yet unpredictable way, like the flight path of a butterfly. At times they seem to be plucking grapes from an imaginary vine; at others, daintily hanging invisible washing on an invisible line. Sometimes they describe the shape of a particularly voluptuous woman; sometimes they repeatedly open and draw a set of invisible curtains; and occassionally, they seem to calm a particularly volatile (but once again, invisible) horse.

I must admit my mind was wandering by this stage.

And finally - it is innapropriate to whistle after an orchestral performance: even if you know one of the members of the choir. He just won't appreciate it and neither will your white-haired neighbours in the audience.

I saw Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, just so you don't think I am a complete philistine.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Hot List*

1. Jemaine Clement & Bret McKenzie
Geeks + facial hair + the funny = volcanic hotness (nb. they only work as a pair).

2. Dave Grohl (circa 1997)
It's the combination of the rocker hair and the goofy smile.

3. Gael Garcia Bernal Benicio Del Toro
Gael has the stunning eyes and exquisite cheekbones, but Del Toro has the hulking presence, the squint, and the dangerous streak.

4. Dylan Moran (as Bernard in Black Books)
Grumpy, surly, Irish, drunk - and all the more lovable for it.

5. Andrew WK
The wildcard - a piano-playing metal-head with brains. Lethal!

Special mention

Robert Pattinson

Me and fifty bajillion pre-teens. Blood-suckers are so hot right now. Too new to make the list, but I'll be keeping an eye on him.

Runners up

6. Jason Schwartzman
Love the eyebrows. And the eyes staring out from beneath them.

7. Keanu Reeves
Ever since Point Break. Sigh.

8. Paul Dempsey
Meloncholy Melbourne rock-god.

9. Zach Braff
Cute, funny, well-written. Ka-ching!

10. Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman
Jesus, I never knew what the fuss was about until I watched this for the first time just recently.

Don't know why you like them, but you do

1. Jon Heder
Girly, goofy, mormon - yet hot.

2. Javier Bardem
See Benicio Del Toro, but taking the danger levels up a notch.

3. Noel Fielding/Vince Noir
I know I'm not alone on this one.

4. Chevy Chase in the 70's
Those sideburns. That smirk. Ouch!

5. Tony Curtis (in Some Like It Hot - confusifying!)
I just love the ridiculous conversation he has with Marilyn on the boat, in between kisses.

*you know, the 5 people you're allowed to cheat on your partner with if said crush was to happen to be in town and you happened to be sitting in the same bar and were drawn towards each other by an IRREPRESSIBLE force of nature. But I seem to have accumulated 16.

Whaddaya gonna do with all the hotness in the world?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Books currently strewn about my bed

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry
The story of a serious and inquisitive little prince and the world he discovers when he decides to venture out beyond his home asteroid one day. Full of wonder; heartfelt and exquisitely moving.

The Introvert Advantage by Dr. Marti Laney
The best self-help book I have ever read (and believe me, I've read a few - or should I say, started them and given up after the first few chapters), and by far the most relevant to me. It's nice to know that I'm not alone - 25% of people (apparently), like me, are inwards looking, get their energy from being alone and need downtime to cope with the outside stimulation of everyday life. I can't tell you how much this book has opened my eyes to my own nature, and helped me to accept it. It's nice to know I'm not a freak. Well, at least not a certifiable freak.

You are What You Eat by Sham Dr. Gillian McKeith
Yes, I find McKeith loathesome for reasons I can't quite articulate, but in a moment of madness I decided to do the one-day detox she describes in this book (including the body brush and mineral bath before bed) - and I have to say, it was surprisingly easy. Plus, my new juicer is the funnest toy ever. Yes, I know funnest isn't a word. But it should be.

Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties by Rainer Maria Rilke and John J.L. Mood
Rilke is a German poet I discovered in a very roundabout way. A bit over a year ago, when I was going through an epic break-up and trying desperately to find some peace of mind, my yoga teacher quoted a line from this poem (the words in bold) and it affected me so much, I had to trace it to the source. This book is some consolation for those who, like me, seem to suffer more than their fair share of heartache.

...and still struggling through A Suitable Boy. In fact, I seem to be at a standstill. Somebody make a film of this already, for gosh sakes! I am only one-sixth of the way through the three massive volumes that comprise this monster, and I am losing momentum.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Random observations

A few weeks ago: We are sitting at our computer screens at work, beavering away, when through the open window comes the sound of Allanah Myles wailing out the chorus to "Black Velvet" from a van stopped at the lights below. I haven't heard this song for about a hundred years, and had completely forgotten how much I loved it as an angst-ridden pre-teen; and how truly bad it is.

The office cracks up at this unexpected 80's flashback.

Tuesday morning, 9:05am: Cycling over Southwark Bridge, I catch a snippet of a phone conversation from one of the grey-suited corporates walking in the opposite direction: "Yeah, sorry mate, I was just listening to some soft cock rock..."

Surely your love of a little bit of the Bolt in the morning is best kept to yourself? And it raises a whole host of questions for me: namely, who was he talking to? His boss? His girlfriend? What possessed him to admit that out loud? Also, do Coldplay count as SCR as well as MOR?

Last Thursday night, Charing Cross station, 6.27pm: A guy wanders by in full 1980's Axl Rose regalia, with leather studded jacket, skin-tight black jeans, white reebok pumps with their fat tongues standing up, and massively permed (possibly even highlighted) hair cascading down his back. Judging by his bellicose expression and wide-legged swagger he's never even heard of the word "irony".

A final random observation: It never rains in London between the hours of 8.45am and 9.15am. Brilliant! I can ride my bike every day, and no matter how heavy the skies, no matter how dark and gloomy, it just never rains at that time. Ever.

Thank you God, for these small, puzzling presents you seem to enjoy handing out willy-nilly. Now get cracking on my love life already.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A tough act to follow

I saw my parents off at airport yesterday. Needless to say, tears were shed, bones were crushed with a years worth of hugs, and the airport authorities were brought in to tear me from my parents grasp. I only survived the long tube journey back from Heathrow by reading a free copy of the Telegraph, very intently, from front to back (including the obituaries). Do you think I can remember a damn article? Gordon Brown made a speech, that much I gather.

The thing that most people commented on after meeting my parents was how cute they are together, and how affectionate they are with each other still. My Dad has always doted on my Mum - something I always took for granted - and as much as she is sometimes exasperated by his quirks*, they have lived their lives like two peas in a pod and she would be lost without him.

I remember it dawning on me in my teens that other people's parents were different. They nagged each other, or lead virtually separate lives, or seemed to barely tolerate one another. It wasn't until I reached my twenties that I realised that what my parents have is actually quite rare. Sad as it seemed (and still seems) to me, only once in a blue, blue moon - as Luka Bloom so beautifully sings - do lovers find each other. It is easy to be fooled - what with all the films, songs and stories devoted to the subject - into thinking that true love is everybody's birthright, easy to achieve as reaching out and plucking a rose. Actually, true love is a rare and fragile bird, and as much a product of will as it is of chance, magic, chemistry or whatever you want to call that ephemeral spark between two people.

My parents have certainly had their share of rough patches, but underlying their marriage is an unshakeable devotion to and blind faith in their "togetherness". That kind of fierce, limpet-like commitment has seen them through 35 years, 3 kids, and the various crises and celebrations that occur in varying frequencies in everybody's lives.

I am lucky enough to have two generations of stable, devoted, loving marriages on which to base my expectations. As one person commented, that's a hard act to follow. It surely is, my friend.

* I don't want to get into too much detail here, but let me just say - my Dad is a little averse to spending money; and even the simplest plan (ie. a trip to the shops) must be confirmed in triplicate - with supporting notes, lists, timelines and maps - in order for him to feel comfortable.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bitch just ruined my best dress

As if I didn't hate you enough already, Paris. Now you've gone and ruined the Diane von Furstenberg dress that I fell in love with at a sample sale on fifth avenue and will forever associate with New York. Damn you to hell.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nuts for choco-banana cupcakes

God I miss New York. Especially the cupcakes, which they do to perfection. It's all in the butter-rich frosting they pile on top in extravagent swirls, as high as the cake itself.

Here is my slightly healthier, much lamer take on the New York cup-cake. I didn't ice these but they would be great with cream cheese icing.

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup white flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bi-carb soda
pinch salt
1/2 cup golden caster sugar
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg
1/3 cup sunflower oil
50gm seriously dark chocolate (I used 100% cocoa because I'm well hard)
75gm chocolate of your choosing, chopped into small pieces (I used Green & Black's milk)
a handful of pecans, chopped

Melt the dark chocolate over a pan of hot water. In a large bowl, mix the first 6 (dry) ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the banana, oil and egg. Melt the dark chocolate and add to the wet mix.

Add the wet mix to the dry, and mix roughly. Fold in the chopped chocolate and pecans. Spoon into 12 muffin cases and cook at 180 celcius for 25 minutes or so.

Eat while dreaming of New York and drooling over the memory of inch-thick frosting.


Friday, September 05, 2008

The parental unit come to visit

MY PARENTS ARE HERE! MY PARENTS ARE HERE!! Lord-a-me, I never thought I would see the day. My Swedish-bound bro and I have been fretting for their welfare ever since they told us they had decided they were coming over! And they had booked their flights already! And surely there was only one airport in Sweden, so they booked tickets to that one!

Oh boy. My parents have never travelled outside of Australia (apart from their honeymoon, which was to Norfolk Island, and I'm pretty sure that doesn't count). They still live in the same house they built after they got married, with the same charmingly red-necked neighbour next door. My Dad gets twitchy if he doesn't get at least one LARGE, STRONG, PIPING HOT mug of tea per hour in the day, and let's not talk about his attitude towards spending money unecessarily (or indeed, at all). I don't want to build up a picture that my parents are incredibly conservative here, because they are both intelligent people who are interested in the world around them, and my mum especially has become a lot more engaged in the world of texts and yoga classes and Japanese cuisine over the past decade, but I think it's fair to say that they are very modest, home loving people who love living in Australia, and have never seen the need to go anywhere else.

BUT NOW THEY'RE HERE! Telling me about the adventures they had in Rome! And how they danced to Waltzing Matilda in Tuscany! And got free cheesecake from a lovely Italian dude when they arrived late to their hotel in Florence! And how the snooty French woman told my Dad off for filling his water bottle with Evian from the breakfast table! (he doesn't trust the tap water in Europe - that would be a step too far).

I am so overwhelmed to see them both again, and so proud of them both for making it here, and so thrilled that they enjoyed Europe so much. They are both skinnier than I remember, and older. Also, it's great for the ego when your Dad tells you that you are better than the Colosseum and the Pantheon combined. Love you both, little rum and popsy, and so looking forward to making the most of having you here in London with me.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A green-light day

Riding to work has been such a pleasure since I got back from New York. The streets are Summer-quiet, term-time-quiet, August-quiet - and with so little traffic I can sail straight through most of the minor intersections (don't tell the police). After a few weeks of trudging through my cycling routine, this morning I seemed to breeze through the city, hardly raising a sweat, through a dream run of green lights. Don't you love that?

Driving through New York, all the lights along the avenues turn green at once, so that the taxi drivers fang it the minute the light changes to catch as many as they can. Well, at least our taxi driver did on the way to Harlem one Sunday, but I'm fairly sure he was high at the time, given his breezy disregard of lane markings, barriers, cones, pedestrians and police cars. I don't blame him; even as a passenger, that endless string of green lights appears in front of you and your foot involuntarily presses to the floor.

So, I am feeling a little better than I was and had a nice time in Sweden with my newly health-conscious brother (the same brother who used to survive on two minute noodles and cocktail franks), and I am off to the Edinburgh festival this weekend which I am excited about. It is a 4.5 hour train trip, but I am well equipped with the most gigantic book known to mankind, second only to the bible: Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Good grief!

I have so much to look forward to at the moment. Going to see middle bro and his girlfriend in Sweden this weekend. My parents coming over to visit in September. More sunshiney days as Summer eases towards Autumn. Rediscovering my favourite things about London.

And yet... lately I have been slumped in a terrible state which some people call the Blues, but should more accurately be called the Greys. Blue is my least favourite colour, but it still makes me think of blue skies, cornflowers, blueberries, Tiffany boxes, plums, butterflies, and ponderous whales gliding through the Big Blue. I guess when people talk about "the blues", they mean deep, dark, almost-black blue. The colour of a bruise on dark skin.

But for me, when I am feeling like this, the world is leeched of colour. Or rather, the colours are there, bright and beautiful as always, but something in my brain stops me from taking delight in them (I usually inhale colours like most people inhale the smell of freshly ground coffee. Although I am quite partial to that too). For a highly visual person, losing your appreciation of colour is a very serious business indeed. It is the first sign that all is not well with me, emotionally. The second is the loss of my sense of humour, and with it, my ability to laugh at myself. I feel terribly exposed without it.

Usually I don't write when I am feeling like this, but this particular slump is proving quite stubborn and there is a selfish part of me which hopes that through the act of confessing, my mood will lighten (admitting you have a problem is the first step in overcoming it, yada yada). Does anybody know what the second step is? Irritating your friends with incessant sighing? Eating your own body weight in Green & Black's ice cream? Writing exceedingly self-centered blog entries?

Maybe I can live with grey for now. Maybe I need to learn to appreciate shades of grey more. Grey is actually a great colour for a designer to work with, bringing a sophistication to the page and making the other colours pop out that much more (cool grey, white and bright yellow is my favourite 60's-retro-futuristic colour combo). Who knows - maybe my Grey cast makes me appreciate colour that much more when it finally lifts. After all, too much colour can give a person a headache.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Three annoying things about the U.S. (that make me feel marginally better about having to leave New York)

Fitter. Happier. More productive
It is impossible to watch U.S. television without being assaulted by back-to-back ads for drugs of every possible description, promising to treat every possible ailment (and plenty of made-up ones, I'm convinced). They usually feature a good looking couple walking their dog on a windswept beach, talking about how life-changing the latest chemical money-spinner is turning out to be. It got to the point where I was finding comedy value in the awkward "silent" footage they had to run while the narrator spends 10 ponderous minutes listing the outrageous side-effects (using Crapulon may cause spasms, breathing difficulties, hallucinations, bleeding on the lungs, vomiting, and in some cases, your untimely death. Talk to your doctor today to find out whether Crapulon can help make a better you!).

How much food can one little island consume?
ALL OF IT, apparently. Lord, it is impossible to avoid all the food. Manhattan island is groaning with the stuff; piled high with great mounds of it, mostly of the high-sugar, high-fat, crammed-with-additives variety. It is a serious challenge to find a good, healthy meal in the city. I only survived thanks to frozen edamame beans from the Korean grocer, and even then, I spent a lot of time ill (one doctor even suggested the change in diet may have brought on the appendicitis). Order a salad and it will come swimming (literally) in dressing. The only thing to do is give in, and hope that the intermittent illnesses will bring your weight back down to pre-America levels.

If you do go down the path of least resistance, undo your belt a few notches and get yourself a tub of Häagen-Dazs Extra Rich Light Mint Chip ice cream. I know it is half the fat of regular ice cream, but trust me, you will eat twice as much. Also a pizza-pie from Grimaldi's (if you walk over the Brooklyn Bridge you will feel slightly less guilty) and a classic hamburger n' milkshake combo from the Empire Diner in Chelsea.

I'm sorry, I don't speak American
The Americans can't distinguish the individual members of the vowel family. The only way around this is to speak to them with a big old fake American accent. I can't tell you the number of times I had variations on this conversation:

Me: "So that's Kelly, k, e.."
Them: "k, a.."
Me: "No, k-E.."
Them: "k-A.."
Me: "E as in Elephant."
Them: "A?"
Me: "E, not A"
Them: "A?"
Me: "(emphatically) No, not A, E!
Them: "So...k-a?"
Me: "How about I send you an email and you can reply."
Them: "k-a?"
Me: "Bubbye now."

You want more flimsy anecdotal evidence? My friend Stu said no one understood him when he asked for a Coke ("You want cake?") unless he put on his best Texan accent.

* * * *

That's all I got. I could also go on about how unfunny the Americans are (glaringly obvious when up against their naturally witty British counterparts) - but when you take into account their inherent optimism, it's kind of endearing how earnest they are. I am excluding Jewish people here of course; they are funny as hell.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Goodbye NY, hello LDN

I have been back in London for a week now, and already I am feeling nostalgic for the bright lights and wide avenues of New York. There is some kind of magic about that name, isn't there? New York! Even whispered under your breath, it evokes excitement, colour, glamour, drama. The buzz of life swirling around the streets, pouring into the subways, milling around the bars and leering at you from doorways. Park avenue princesses and Madison park bums. Wise-cracking doormen and edgy cab drivers.

A sense of optimism pervades NYC, noticable after the comfortable pessimism of London. New York is brimful of hope right now, especially with the election around the corner.

Despite my nostalgia, my last week in New York was far from the highlight of my trip, and being run down as I was meant I really noticed the smog, the dirt, the noise and the stench of rubbish left festering in the humidity. After I touched down at Heathrow, the thing that really struck me was how green London was, having burst gloriously forth from a wet Summer since I've been away. And how quiet the city is! It seems so peaceful after New York, especially in my little neighbourhood north of the city.

In an effort to help me settle back into my everyday life here, I present a list of things I continue to love about London (which I shall repeat to myself often, mantra-like):

1) The parks. Hampstead Heath especially - so lovely, and more suitable for rambling and picnics than Central Park. Also, there is nothing prettier than an English cottage garden.

2) The quirky style of the inhabitants. People are more free-spirited in the way they dress here, and more rough around the edges.

3) The buses. They are a great way to get around, if you don't mind taking a bit longer, and the sight of a red double-decker bus is inherently cheering.

4) The variety of food that is available. London is a foodie town, there is no denying it. Borough Market, I missed you and your awe-inspiring arrays of meat, seafood, spices, coffee, cakes, bread, and local and exotic fruits and vegetables.

5) My bike and London's increasingly bike-friendly roads (really!). Good to be back in the saddle.

6) Proper world news, delivered by people I can take seriously. Living in New York, you tend to forget about the existence of an outside world.

7) The generally "good natured despite the weather/the fact that nothing works as it should" attitude of the people here.

8) A nice cup of English (or more likely some kind of herbal) tea. It just didn't seem right drinking tea in NY, and I missed the ritual.

9) The sense of history, of course. I hope to see more and do more in this historic town; having made the most of my time in NY, I feel a little like I have taken London for granted.

10) The vast variety of accents, some of which I have become immune to, but some of which still manage to tickle me (the "Cheers, Guv'nor!" to the driver when the bus waited for a tardy cockney to board).

I am sure there are many more things to love about London which I have forgotten to include here, so I will update this list as they occur to me or as I experience them.

Just don't ask me to choose which my favourite city is. I am not prepared to go there just yet.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Website of the week (year?)

Overheard in New York.com

So funny. Props to the lovely Amanda who sent me the link.

I think I have mentioned this on here before, but the funniest thing I remember overhearing was a little kid who had had a bit of a crash on the ice at the Somerset House skating rink, and was asking his dad hysterically, "Am I dead, or what?"

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Fink broods; Liz Phair talks dirty

First up: Fink. I saw the man play at the supremely wonderful Joe's Pub recently. It was good to break out of my usual female singer/songwriter rut, and I must say, sitting only a few feet away from him as I was, I was a little taken with his unapologetically masculine presence on the stage. He struck me as a staunchly old-school bloke - the anti-metrosexual if you like - with his shorn head, wiry form, beer-swilling, anti-fashion uniform of grey sweat top and dirty grey jeans and occassional self-conscious "nice one". His lyrics are (in keeping with his sartorial style) simple and direct, tending towards the everyday - being late for work, buying maple syrup from Asda (or not), perving at girls (in the sexy sexy Pretty Little Thing) - but his voice and guitar playing elevate the songs to another level altogether. Deep, bruising and hypnotic. Shudder. Catch him live if you can; some of his magic is lost in the recording process.

Then there is Ms Liz Phair: a pint-sized dynamo striding the stage at the Hiro Ballroom in leather vest, hotpants and cork wedges. How rock and roll is that?!

I love Liz for the honesty in her music and voice, her brazen sexuality and the f*ck-you attitude that has gotten her into trouble on more than one occassion. This gig was a celebration of the re-release of Exile in Guyville, with Liz and her all-male back up rocking through every song on the album - from 6ft 1in to Strange Loop. I have to confess, despite the fact that Supernova was one song guaranteed to get me on the dance floor in the 90's (the others were Sabotage and Connection), the first album I bought of hers was the comparitively mild-mannered Somebody's Miracle, and that was only a few years ago. However, it was interesting enough that I have been catching up on her past releases ever since.

This gig was my first introduction to Exile, so unlike many devout fans in the crowd, I couldn't sing along rapturously. However, as an Exile-virgin, the stand-out songs for me were (typically) the slower, sadder ones: Glory, Dance of the Seven Veils, Canary, Girls! Girls! Girls!, and Gunshy; and then there was the dirty shock of Flower (whoa momma!) and of course the infamous Fuck and Run.

Lord, why did no one introduce me to this - the ultimate collection of pissed off break-up songs - when I was 23 and torn up with misdirected anger and confusion?

Both Liz and Fink mentioned how great it was to be in New York, and how much they loved the New York crowds; and both mentioned previous lacklustre gigs in Chicago (Liz) and Pittsburgh (Fink). Sadly, my time in New York will shortly be at an end.

Damn, I'm going to miss this town.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The New York List*

It's all about brunch in New York! The popular places can have a wait of an hour or more, but I aim to go and eat early (10-11am) on the weekends. Most places serve bottomless coffee for you caffeine junkies.

Pastis. A New York brunch institution, in the meatpacking district. Lovely old world European style interior, serving up classy French morsels. So-so coffee, but great brioche French toast. A must do.

Mud coffee. Very cool coffee joint in Greenwich Village. Hand-picked by my friend Amy, supreme coffee vixen.

Casimir. Another great (but tiny) brunch place in the hip lower East side, on a friendlier scale and budget than Pastis.

Diner. Supremely cool diner in Williamsburg, populated by local hipsters. Watch out for the spindly outdoor tables, which couldn't contain my giant aussie legs (lots of coffee spillage).

Florent. One of the first all-night diners to open in the meat-packing district before it was trendy: soon to be closed because of the sky-rocketing rent in the area. Shame, the home fries were lip-smacking and the place has got buckets of personality.

Balthazar. Fancy-pants French restaurant on Spring Street, popular with tourists and locals alike (prepare to wait up to an hour for a table). I prefer Pastis slightly, because it is a little less hectic.

Penelope's. My favourite brunch spot so far! Very cute little cafe on 30th and Lex, with delicious home made cupcakes, coffee served in mismatched mugs and yummy, yummy food. Oh my god, the blueberry waffles with orange butter... words cannot do justice.

Clinton Street Bakery. The Best Pancakes Ever. Lovely homestyle food, lower East side.

There is such a plethora of choice when it comes to food over here, it's ridiculous. Your best bet is using a combination of the Zagat Guide (the NY restaurant bible) and a more discriminating guide like the Time Out City Guide, and of course local recommendations.

Supper. Atmospheric little Italian place on the Lower East side with exposed brick walls and pretty chandeliers.

Ali Baba Turkish Cuisine. The most delectable, smoky babaganoush I have ever tasted.

Grimaldi's pizza. You deserve one of these world famous pies after walking all the way over the Brooklyn Bridge. Just be prepared to queue (it's absolutely worth the wait).

Café Sabarsky. The rather posh Neue Gallery restaurant. Get yourself a Viennese coffee and dessert (I had the dark chocolate and apricot cake). Natalie Portman had the apple strudel, in case you were wondering.

Katz's Deli, where Sally proved to Harry what great manipulators women can be. It's a lot grimier than it looks in the film, but the girl behind the counter wouldn't accept payment from a fellow Melbournite, so I can't complain.

Nobu next door. Slightly cheaper and easier to book than Nobu, this is the best meal I have had in the city so far - amazing. Promise me you'll go there and try the fresh yellow tail sashimi with jalapeno, and also the rock shrimp tempura. Still drooling.

Adrienne's pizza bar. It's a pleasure eating outdoors on a warm night at this great upmarket pizza bar. The street is lined with bench-style tables, hidden away on a cobble-dy street near Battery Park.

The Empire diner. I can't believe it didn't occur to me to visit an old fashioned American diner. It took an out-of-towner to suggest it. Proper old-school burger-and-milkshake-at-the-counter territory, served with a smile and a wink.

John's pizzeria. Famous pizza pie joint on Bleecker street. Atmospheric, with years worth of names carved into the small wooden booths, but Grimaldi's pizza is superior in my book (I think it's an Italian vs. American thing.)

Alcoholic beverages and bars are not my strong suit, I have to admit - I am a lightweight and don't like noisy, crowded bars - but here's a list of the few places I have visited. Don't forget your ID!

Ayza chocolate and wine bar (Midtown). Try a "flight" (3 little samplers).

Flat Iron Lounge.
Groovy bar with retro cocktails, near the iconic building.

Under the volcano. Atmospheric (and very dark) tequila bar in midtown. Fierce margaritas.

Divine Bar, right near Times Square. The cinnamon toast with caramel ice-cream was sooo good, but you might feel a little self-conscious ordering the "Stinkin' Dirty Whore-tini". Try the Angel's Tit instead (truly divine).

Darkroom. A photographer friend (appropriately) roped me into coming to this low-ceilinged den and I enjoyed myself dancing inanely to Stevie Wonder and other crowd-pleasers.

8 Mile Creek. Surprisingly tasteful Australian themed bar in NoLIta (north of little italy). You wouldn't really know it was an Australian bar, except that you might be offered a Tim Tam with your drink.

Superfine. A bar in dumbo which is exactly that: super fine. Fantastic G&T with lime, kick-ass music, and rotating local artworks on the walls.

You gotta see some live music if you come to New York, it has been hands-down my favourite thing to do here - there are some great small venues and you are spoilt for choice when it comes to gig listings.

Smalls. Even for jazz-novices like myself, an umissable experience.

NYC Town Hall. I caught Flight of the Conchords here, but they have all sorts of stuff on - classical, poetry, world music. Lovely old-fashioned theatre with good views from most seats, right near Times Square.

The Mercury Lounge. Proper dark and dinghy rock venue on an intimate scale, East Houston. I saw the fragile but heart-breakingly beautiful Joan As Police Woman here, with New York's coolest in attendance (including a Warhol wannabe).

Bowery Ballroom. My favourite NY music space so far. Beautiful mid-sized venue in a stylish 1920's building in the lower East side, showing loads of cool acts. I caught the very lovely Laura Veirs here (supported by Liam Finn).

Southpaw. Laidback (but supportive) local venue in Brooklyn, far enough from the beaten track to make you feel like one of the locals. I saw Hayden here.

Summerstage. A series of free concerts over the summer in Central Park - what could possibly go wrong? Well, it could pour with torrential rain and thunderstorms on the day Vampire Weekend are playing...but aside from that, much fun to be had.

Joe's pub. My (and Fink's) favourite New York venue. If you call ahead and book a table, you can sit right by the stage and enjoy dinner and drinks while you listen in this intimate space.

The Hiro Ballroom. I saw Liz Phair rocking out at this sumptuous kung-fu-style venue, with paper lanterns hanging from the curved dark wood ceiling. Very cool.


Falling Water. More Pittsburgh than New York, but worth the pilgrimage to see the most beautiful example of mid-century American architecture around.

The New York Public Library. Gorgeous building, worth going in for a look. I went to see the Gutenburg bible, but nearly cried when I discovered the actual, real life Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Tigger and Eyeore, once owned (and obviously well loved) by Christopher Robin Milne.

Avenue Q on Broadway. Cute and funny. I was hysterical at interval: I don't even remember why. Caveat: The Americans will never touch the British when it comes to humour. I think I was just high on life at the time.

Coney Island. I don't think this counts as "cultural", but it's certainly an "experience". Shoot the Freak, ride the Cyclone, ogle the carnies and tuck into a world famous hotdog. Not for the faint of heart. Scheduled for redevelopment, so get there quick if you want to experience the authentic tawdry-run-down-fairground atmosphere.

The Guggenheim. Another cool Frank Lloyd Wright building full of cutting-edge modern art.

Neue Gallery. I tracked this down after spying a Klimt poster on 5th avenue. I adored it: it is a Klimt-groupies dream. And the most gorgeous display of Wiener Werkstätte jewellery imaginable.

Central Park Boathouse. Fortify yourself with an American-style super sweet breakfast at the Express Café before heading out for a row on the lake. If you are feeling energetic (I was), hire yourself a bike from Metro Bicycles (cheaper than the Central Park bike rentals) on 88th and Lexington for an easy cycle round the entire park.

Wicked. The front row seats are allocated via a ballot system - turn up between 5 and 6pm to put your name down and take your chances for the 8 o'clock show.

BAM. The Brooklyn Academy of Music to be precise, but they also put on plays and have a cinema where I saw a bunch of short animated films from around the world, with a Q&A session afterwards.

Whitney Museum of American Art. Great but dissappointingly small collection of modern American art, including Hopper, O'Keefe, Oldenburg, Pollock and De Kooning. Luckily they had one tiny room in the basement dedicated to my all-time favourite sculptor: Alexander Calder; as well as a collection of exquisite Mapplethorpe polaroids.

P.S.1. Contemporary art museum in a converted school building in Queens, affiliated with MoMA. Very cool and definitely worth the trek. I saw a brilliant show around the themes of "flags, weapons and dreams" - a great insight into the underbelly of the American dream.

MoMA. This is the best collection of big-name modern art I have seen in the world - truly awesome. A fantastic space and a definite must-do.

The Met. For some reason, I was expecting the Met to be a bit fusty and boring, but it blew me away. Utterly amazing collection of artworks from throughout the ages, from ancient Egyptian to contemporary American.

New York Botanical Gardens. I spent a very wet and humid Sunday traipsing around this lovely park, seeking out the Henry Moore pieces which are on exhibition at the moment. A serene retreat from the city, up in the Bronx.

*To be updated during my stay.

Not the worst chat up line I've ever heard...

I'm walking home from the Whitney, after a crazy detour through some kind of bubble fest that was happening on Broadway (tons of people making soap bubbles with various implements including: automated bubble guns; huge Y shaped contraptions that produce monster bubbles; and old school 'o' on a stick bubble makers), passing by a 300-strong yoga class that was taking place in the middle of Times Square (only in New York, right?).

I'm negotiating my way throught the throng of fat American tourists when a tattooed guy with a mini-mohawk calls out, "Hey, you dropped your sunglasses!" as I walk by. I look back, confused, and he says "No, I'm just kidding. They're on your head. Do you like comedy?"

I notice he is handing out flyers for a comedy night, like many other poor shlubs peddling tickets around Times Square, centre of the entertainment universe. I smile at my dim-wittedness and shake my head no as I keep walking.

"No? Do you like skinny white guys?"

Friday, June 13, 2008

I truly do heart this big, brash, beautiful, crazy city

Jackhammers pound belligerently in the distance. Taxi drivers beep by way of conversation with pedestrians and other drivers. The occassional wail of a siren or the insistent honking of a fire truck breaks out, cabbies slow to move out of the way. And beneath it all, the undercurrent, when all the other noises conspire to cease for a blessed minute, the rush and hum of Manhattan rises up from the island and filters into my 29th floor apartment.

New York. New York! This trip has been so incredible, so enjoyable (apart from that slight touch of appendicitis) and so easy, really - that I find myself feeling more relaxed than I have in a long time, despite the hubbub. I realised yesterday that I haven't felt worried about anything in my personal life since I've been here. And for me, a chronic worrier from the time I achieved self-consiousness about age 4, that has been an incredible respite from my usual way of being.

I'm still a little lazy, quite vague and dreamy, and prone to pessimism when things don't go my way, but these last 12 months have been quite a journey for me. Sorry to get all self-help on your asses - and believe me, America is the place for self help, whether by drugs, books, drugs, television, therapy or more drugs - but I am in a very good place at the moment and can't remember ever having enjoyed myself more.

As I said to my mum on the phone this morning, this trip has been the highlight of my life so far. Seriously. I know that sounds dramatic, but really, it has! All my other travels, wonderous and amazing as they have been, have been ever so slightly tarnished by worry niggling around my edges. Here in New York, with the practicalities taken care of by my work and the knowledge that this is a temporary state aleviating my need to worry incessantly about the future - I feel totally immersed in my pure enjoyment of this great city. Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, eating burgers and drinking milkshakes, seeing broadway shows and going to lots of gigs - indulgence and entertainment have become my way of life over here, and unhealthy as that may turn out to be (physically or spiritually), I am enjoying being me, being here now, more than ever.

Even the prospect of returning to London isn't bothering me at this point. Come back to me in a few weeks and you might find a somewhat different story (no one changes that much, after all) - but right now, I feel serene and bouyant and lucky. It's a very good feeling.

Apologies for the gushing. It's possible karma will decree that I get mugged as soon as I leave the building.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Geek rock: Laura Veirs at the Bowery Ballroom

I just can't seem to escape the geek connection lately. Ever since I started wearing glasses, my world view seems to have shifted somewhat (and not just because distant buildings/trees/signs are uncomfortably sharp now).

I think I admire Laura all the more for her ever-present specs. In fact, it was a picture of her in said specs on the cover of Year of Meteors which first attracted my attention at the Highgate library. Unlike 95% of young female artist cover shots, it was not sexy, not overly styled, and she was not smiling, just gazing straight out, a strange combination of reserved and defiant - serious but with a trace of a mocking smile. I took it home and what sealed the deal for me was 1. the sound, original, pure, captivating and slightly melancholy (if I had to categorise it, I would say indie folk) and 2. the lyrical themes of night skies, literature, swimming, mermen, caves and mountains.

Alone on stage at the lovely Bowery Ballroom, just one girl with her guitar and reverb pedal, Ms. Veirs did not disappoint. The most surprising thing was her strong and sure presence on the stage. She did say towards the end of the night that she was feeling especially relaxed and happy; like she was doing a lap of luck-xury, which she went on to explain was what she and her tour-mate did every time they got a hotel with a pool, to bring luck for the evening's performance.

She played a good selection of recent and older songs (I only know the stuff from her last two albums), as well as a couple of covers and an ode to Obama that sounded so heavenly, she almost changed my mind.

Oh-bah-mah-a-ah, Oh-bah-mah-a-ah, isn't he handsome? Isn't he smart?

A few people in the crowd felt compelled to call out Hilary's name afterwards. There is such a blatant popularity contest going on over here, but Obama seems to be winning in the public profile category.

For the encore, Laura came out with her support act in tow, Liam Finn (who was a tad disappointing with his self-indulgent racket-making), and they joined forces for a rousing version of Galaxies. With Liam restrained from his earlier freak-out and restricted to back up vocals and drums, it was a heavenly way to end a night which made me feel smug to have discovered such a cool artist whose sensibilities are so in tune with my own.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Female superheroes: established and new

I just found out that Pamela Bone, former associate editor for The Age newspaper and one of my writing heroes, passed away recently after a long but dignified battle with cancer. I used to read Pamela's column avidly, and I went to pains to track down her book about growing up in Australia over the past 100 years, Up We Grew, when I visited Melbourne a few years back. Like many other Australians, I was saddened at the news of her diagnosis and hoped that she would make a full recovery.

The integrity, clarity and calm steadiness that characterised Pamela's writing were incredibly inspiring to me. There is an art to talking about complex moral issues in a way that anyone can understand; one that is inclusive as well as insightful.

I actually emailed her once after reading one of those stories that shakes you out of your complacency; sending a link to the distressing article which concerned a woman who had been raped and killed as punshiment for a crime committed by her brother in the Middle East. With anger still coursing through my fingers, I wrote of the betrayal I felt over a generation of young women wanting to distance themselves from the label "feminist". I didn't expect a response - after all, she was a busy career and family woman, prominent in the Australian media, who must have been overwhelmed by mail every day - I just needed to share my immediate sense of outrage.

I was touched when she emailed back a few days later, to thank me and encourage me. She went on to write this moving piece about some of the atrocities being perpetrated on women.

It is strange that someone whom I never met could have had such a profound impact on my life, but I realise now that whenever I write a serious piece, I always have Pamela at the back of my mind, casting her calm, clear-sighted eyes over my prose. A person - a woman - of resilient character and great moral clarity, who conveyed her message with a subtle and succinct style, she remains a lifelong hero.

* * *

Tina Fey is my new geek-girl crush. Previously it has been the hilarious Dooce, Daisy from Spaced, and Iranian/French graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi.

I know it's a bit of a 180 on my part, but I have come around - 30 Rock is just so funny, so clever, and so sharply written. And Tina is just so geektastic in those specs. Every interview I have read with her, she manages to say something so outrageously funny it makes me laugh out loud.

Gotta love a quirky funny woman, especially if she is successful and fearless and cute and not of the man-hating variety.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Flight of the Conchords at NYC Town Hall

So, against the wishes of my mum and her boss and all the lovely people who have my best interests at heart, I went along to the Flight of the Conchords gig last night. How could I not? I have been obsessing about these boys since a little article in the Guardian tv guide piqued my interest many months ago. Seeing them was the thing I was most excited about doing during my time in New York. In fact, there are those who have suggested that my entire motivation for coming to New York was to see Bret and Jemaine in all their sexy, beardy, low-key, funkalicious glory. That may or may not be true, I'm not prepared to comment.

And anyway, I already missed out on Feist, whom I had tickets to see last week. Damned appendicitis, derailing my 3-month non-stop NY fun-fest.

The crowd was mostly made up of blokes, interestingly, in pairs or small clusters, who were dressed like their heroes - lots of checked shirts, retro t-shirts and quirky glasses. Geek chic, which is the new look I am rockin' in my specs (the need for which I really can't deny any longer), was the overall vibe. One girl even yelled out a request for the "Binary Solo!" - now if that girl is not at one with her geekiness, I don't know who is. It was basically a big love-in really, with various female audience members shouting out their adoration for one or the other of the pair throughout the night. At one point Bret felt there was too much attention being paid to him, and not enought to Jemaine, so he got all the blokes in the hall to yell out "I love you Jemaine." And they did!

This is a new era, people, one where a heterosexual guy can tell a heterosexual guy that he thinks his booty is fly.* But still not one where it's ok for a bloke to cry.

It was a very lovely, friendly atmosphere, with Bret and Jemaine their typically laidback, understated, unpresuming selves - Bret so much so that at one point he made a little tent from his guitar cases and laid down after professing to feeling a little bit tired. Jemaine brought his mike over and attended to him like a gentle uncle with a nephew worn out from all the excitement of the day.

The duo ("we're a band, if you can have a one-man-band and a band with 3 people, we are definitely a band") played some well-loved songs from the TV show - Rhymenocerous probably got the biggest reaction, but Robots was also a crowd-pleaser - as well as some very cool new stuff, with lots of laidback observations in between. As with many of their songs (apart from the odd theme song or heavenly daydream), there were lots of slightly love-lorn odes about girl problems. There was one in which Jemaine does a roll-call of all his ex-girlfriends and what went wrong ("Flo had to go, Stephanie pulled a Persephone"), before asking whose idea it was for all his ex-girlfriends to get together and form a choir. They finished with a slightly tragic story of a local tour guide and the object of his affections.

I think the 'chords are part of a new wave of comedy. Low-key, sweet and very funny in a very gentle way, marked by a more imaginative and fantastical sense of creativity than the previous cocaine-fuelled ego-maniacs and world-weary cynics of yore. Bravo, boys.

*Jemaine proceeded to explain that "putting a wig on you" is some kind of jive talk which shows your respect for the other person, as in "I dig you brother! I put a wig on you! I put a big blonde wig right on you!"

Sunday, May 04, 2008

I see a boundary, I eat a boundary

A few more "firsts" to add to my ever-expanding list:

1. First time dialling "911". Or any national emergency number for that matter. But 911 is the coolest, right?

2. First time in an ambulance (no sirens! Dammit).

3. First time in an ER. I was the only female patient on the ward, strangely.

4. First time on morphine (I do NOT recommend it. Two nights later: horrific nightmares/visions when I closed my eyes.)

5. First CAT scan.

6. First appendectomy.

Alright God, I promise to stop having such a damn good time if you could just see your way clear to letting me have some good health now. I think I've earnt it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

So I'm moving to New York cos I got issues with my sleep

Weeks before I came over here, I was having problems sleeping; I suppose caused in part by my excitment, partly by the overwhelming anticipation and partly by dread of the unknown (I am a big fat old scaredy-cat). But even after I arrived here and found that everything was fine (as the rational part of my brain knew it would be), I still haven't got back into a regular sleeping pattern. Every morning at around 5.00am, ping! Awake. Basically, right now I am being propped up by the towering Berocca stash I was careful to bring over with me. That and the general buzz of the city, which your nerves are plugged into every waking moment. I do love this place.

The first thing I am aware of when I wake up is the low hum of Manhattan and the distant din of the traffic, dulled by my earplugs. Occassionally I am woken by the sound of sirens and garbage truck horns (man, those garbage men love to lean on those babies), but I am high enough up not to be too disturbed by the street noise.

And the last thing I see at night are the lights of the city twinkling through the fine blinds. In a bid to make my room a little bit more of a sanctuary, a lavender candle burns next to two pretty glass ornaments bought at the Falling Water gift shop.

I just discovered the "secret" roof terrace too, which offers a brilliant 360 degree view of the city (if you walk all the way around), and an arresting close-up view of the top of the Empire State.

I feel like I'm living in a waking dream. Maybe that's why I'm not sleeping so well.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

This is jam hot

Just another day in my newly adopted home of Manhattan, a hint of Spring in the air despite the chill. Fresh cherry blossoms burst from their buds on the branches. The sun is warm when you are in it, but step into the shadow of a skyscraper and the temperature plummets.

I walk home from the office down 5th avenue and notice a bit of a hubbub down one of the cross streets. A whole lot of film paraphernalia lines one side of the street - boom mikes, light boxes, lots of people milling around looking busy. On the other side of the street is a mob holding assorted cameras aloft. At the front, the pros with their big black SLR's; at the back, the rabble holding mobile phones and compacts. New York City cops barking "How many times do I have to tell you guys to turn off ya flashes!"

At the focus of everyone's attention are Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, filming a scene from some movie (at a guess, some kind of espionage thriller, or possibly a neurotic rom com). She is tiny in a little black skirt and jacket - I know people always say that but I thought she was supposed to be tall! She ain't. She is wearing stilettos with heels so fine, I can't imagine how they bear her weight. Thinner than pencils. Then again, she probably weighs about as much as my laptop. Clive looks hot as always in a smart grey suit.

Just another day in the big bad city. Sorry to rub it in, but New York is turning out to be great.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Scrumptious ginger cake with cream cheese icing (drool)

250gm self raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp bicarb
pinch salt
200gm golden syrup
4 lumps of ginger in syrup
3tbs ginger syrup
125gm butter
2 heaped tbs sultanas
125gm dark muscovado
2 large eggs
240ml milk

From my favourite cookbook ever, Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. Food porn, made tasteful.

Melt the golden syrup, butter, and ginger syrup together over a gentle heat. Dice the ginger pieces finely and add to the saucepan with sultanas and sugar. Let it bubble for a minute but keep stirring to stop the sultanas sticking. Remove from heat and add to flour, ground ginger, bi carb, cinnamon and salt. Beat the eggs with the milk and add to mixture. You should have a nice, runny mixture at this point. Ginger fiends may want to add more ginger (I already upped the quantities).

Pour into a lined cake tin and cook at 180 for about 45 minutes ('til a skewer comes out clean).

For the cream cheese icing, I just bought some soft cheese and mixed it with golden (unrefined) icing sugar. That stuff tastes a million times better than the refined, super-white stuff, and it goes a lovely caramel colour.

"The best cake you've ever made"
Kamini C, a.k.a. the bitch

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Music to recover from non-specific illnesses by

I am slowly getting back to wellness. I can't believe how often I have been sick lately, and how long the subsequent recovery takes. Truly pathetic. Body, if you were a car, I would so trade you in. Or at least replace the lungs with some proper, functioning bellows. According to various sources, the poor state of my health can be attributed to: my advancing years; the pollution in London; my chocolate-laden diet; vengeance from God for being such a brazen internet-dating hussy; and/or not breathing deeply enough.

As my friend Andrea would write (in her endearingly phonic way): enuff!

At least the downtime gave me some time to sit down and listen to some albums I have been neglecting - namely the brilliant In Rainbows by a ragtag bunch you may have heard of who go by the name of Radiohead; The Reminder by Canadian songstress Feist* (which had me dancing frenetically around the lounge room with the unfeasibly boppy Sea Lion) and My Dancing Heart by a bearded anti-folkster who calls himself Blabbermouth. Oh god, it's all about the facial hair lately. I don't think we need to go into my stalker-eque obsession with the Flight of the Conchords boys at this juncture.

Go forth and listen, yea verily! Ah, the joy of Myspace.

*You will know Feist from the latest MacBook Air and iPod touch ads. Yes, that's right, the girl whose CD I have been trying to get you to listen to since 2004. Yes, she is good. Yes, those Apple CEO's sure know how to pick a good one. Yes, I will lend you the CD. Just promise that you'll listen to me next time.

Friday, March 21, 2008

New York, New York, it's a hell of a town

I am heading off to New York in 3 short weeks!

*hyperventilates with fear*

What on earth made me think that applying for a three-month secondment in a big, bad city full of strangers was a good idea? Me, who likes the quiet life. She who embodies the term "young codger". The girl who doesn't cope with change and spent her first few months in London a depressive wreck, cowering under the covers and jumping at squirrels (those creepy squirrels! If you have spent any time watching one, you know they are inherently evil, with their beady eyes, twitchy little paws and suspiciously bulging cheeks).

All I know is, when I got the phone call to tell me I got it, I don't think I have ever been quite so excited. It takes a lot to get a reaction out of me - I have a few theories as to why I tend to suppress any outward displays of enthusiasm - but after I put the phone down, I screamed. Out loud, not just in my head . Then I rang my mum and dad, whose reaction was "we presumed you already had it." Grateful for the faith, oh parents of mine, but geez! Do I have to get pregnant before you guys get excited for me?! Don't answer that. I know. Hopefully it will happen in your lifetime guys. Hell, hopefully it will happen in my lifetime. They might have to clone me in the future.

Anyhoo, New York! Woody Allen, Broadway, the Empire State, cheesecake, Lady Liberty, Seinfeld, Central Park, Central Perk, Sex and the City, bagels! So now it's all looming scarily close to reality, and I am careening wildly between crazy-excited and crazy-scared.

Either way, it's going to be an adventure.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

London city moment

It's a quiet weekend and I am cycling into the city to meet some friends for Dim Sum. The route has become familiar to me over the past few months, so that I ease into every turn automatically, flying through intersections that are Sunday-quiet. It is chilly but when the sun breaks through the clouds, my eyes crinkle with the bright light and welcome warmth.

As I come up to a small bridge over Regent's canal, I come across one of those vignettes that you sometimes happen across; so perfect, it could never be reproduced to the same effect; all the more magical for being unexpected. Three mallard ducks fly over the bridge in formation, wings flapping to keep their barrel-chested bodies airborne. The light catches the metallic green of their neat, round heads and the teal strip on their wings as they make their way to the other side of the canal. In a minute, they are gone.

I cycle on, a little slower, my heart lifted.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The third rule of online dating is: don't confuse your candidates

In particular (and you'd think this would go without saying, really) don't send someone a message starting "Hi [wrong name here]!". It results in red faces for all parties concerned, and most likely the premature termination of any futher contact.

Luckily, in my stupid case, the bloke concerned had a sense of humour about it and messaged me back, making a joke about the conveyor-belt feel of the dating site we are both navigating.

It is so easy to slip up in this strange online world where you can go "cyber-shopping" for a match, scrolling through page after page of eligible men, adding some to your favourites (ie. the trolley) and being added to other people's favourites, all the while trying to manage the varied messages that come your way. A few blokes have sent me one essay-length message after another, back and forth, back and forth until I find my heart sinking at another "ping" in my inbox. Let's meet up already, dudes! There is no point wasting good Facebook time if we meet up and the chemistry is off.

Speaking of which, it makes sense to bone up on your potential candidate (and I do mean "bone up on", not just "bone" - the devil is in the detail) before you meet them, in order to avoid this kind of embarrassing pratfall. Otherwise, just refer to the first rule, and stick to safe topics like global warming, the upcoming Mayoral election, and Conchords vs. Boosh.

It's a potential minefield for the chronically vague. I only hope someone out there will one day benefit from my mistakes.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Better-Than-Borough-Market Brownies

375 g unsalted butter
375 g dark chocolate
6 large eggs (count 'em!)
1 tbs vanilla extract
500 g caster sugar (I only used 350gm)
225 g plain flour
1 tsp salt
300 g chopped walnuts

Nicked from Nigella's How To Be a Domestic Goddess.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large saucepan over a low heat. In a bowl beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla.
When the chocolate mixture has melted, let it cool a bit before beating in the eggs and sugar mixture. Add the nuts, flour, and salt. Mix it up and then scrape out of the saucepan into a lined baking dish. It will be incredibly gooey, dark, lumpy and insanely delicious at this point.

Bake for about 25 minutes at 180 degrees.

When its's ready, the top should be dried to a paler brown speckle, but the middle still dense and oozy. Be careful not to overcook if you like your brownies gooey in the middle, and remember that they will continue to cook as they cool.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The second rule of online dating is: Don't invest too much too soon

I cannot emphasise this enough to anyone thinking about giving this cyber-matching thing a whirl. Early on I decided that when I first met up with a potential candidate (shall I just call them "dudes" from now on? I think I will), after exchanging detailed enough email messages to determine that they were a) genuine, b) sane and c) relatively normal, that I would call the first meeting just that: a meeting. Not a date. If, when you meet in the flesh and things go well, and there is laughter and easy chatter and a definable spark; then you can arrange an official Capital-D Date. If however, things don't go so well, and there are awkward moments and no flow or attraction, then you can go home with no harm done, and look forward to your next meeting.

(I should say at this juncture that I haven't had a bad experience yet. This whole experience so far has done nothing but reaffirm my faith in the general goodness of people.)

This "emotional holding back" has been a hard-won lesson for me. I have often invested too much, too early, and made myself far too vulnerable to upset if things didn't work out, especially in my late twenties when I was seriously unhappy and thought that salvation would come in the form of a man. On the other hand, if things did work out, the relationship would be rushed through from "dating" to "serious" way too quickly, and I would end up falling into a full-on, overwhelming, life-changing, compromise-making relationship without even the time to stop and think about whether this was actually what I wanted.

Right now, I am finally (at the grand age of 31) in that place where I would like to have a boyfriend, but actually, I am doing just fine on my own.

In fact, I am even beginning to question whether I want someone in my life right now. Boys just take up so much damn energy. And I seem to attract that particular species of bloke who needs a hell of a lot of looking after. Right now I just want to look after myself for a bit. Also, I am feeling more content than I have in a long time, and I don't want to rock my little boat too much.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Saturday night

The Glitter Bandits. No further detail necessary, really.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The first rule of online dating is: Don't Talk About Online Dating

It's all part of the dance. Whilst on an online date, you can talk about things that are made mention of on the website, but you cannot bring up the actual website, directly or indirectly. If one of you slips and makes mention of the website, the other must pretend they didn't hear and hastily change the subject. To come right out and talk about other dates you have been or are planning to go on is sheer dating suicide. To confuse your potential suitor for another online candidate is kamikaze territory (aren't you the one who has a sister in Iceland? No? Are you sure?)

It's best to feign ignorance of the whole world of online dating. That way you can keep up the pretense that you both met randomly, and just happen to know each other's life history/taste in music/career plan by sheer coincidence.

Of course, if the date is not going well and you want to put off your potential suitor, then it makes sense to talk about nothing but online dating. As in, the number of years you have been online dating, unsuccessfully; an extensive rundown of how many online dates you have been on previously; the picture you once put up on your profile of you in your underwear in order to garner more dates, etc.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Online Dating: Dispatches from the Frontline

What better day to write about dipping my toe into the unknown waters of online dating than today, while the streets outside are still strewn with the petals of hastily-bought roses in the aftermath of Valentine's Day?

To bring you up to speed - I have been single since breaking up with my long term boyfriend in June last year. I think I coped fairly well, considering that 1) I had high hopes for the relationship; 2) I had just helped him deal with the fallout, emotional and practical, of an unexpected bereavement; and 3) earlier the same year, I turned thirty, with all the self-analysis and reassessment of life choices that that particular landmark entails. No longer the chicken of Spring, etc.

For a while there, I focused very hard on holding myself together and getting back to a level of emotional stability, and just didn't have the energy or the inclination to even think about men. It was all about me, at that point. That is one of the plus sides of being single in your thirities, you have a lot of free time to devote to self-reflection and development. I did a lot of yoga, drank a lot of chamomile tea, and cried in front of my boss.

I had always said that if I found myself single and in my thirties, that I would try online dating. Many of my friends have tried it at one point or another, with varying degrees of success. It seems to have lost the tarnish it once had of being the sole preserve of nerds, losers and psychopaths. I know that the ideal situation (at this point I can hear my mum's voice in my head) is that you would meet someone through friends, or at work. However, here in the real world, my work is full of old men and accountants, and my friends are all female. I just don't come into contact with that many, or even any, eligible men. So, internet dating it is.

Anyway, so far, it has been a strange experience, but not a bad one. After getting a friend to write up a profile (it works on a recommendations basis), adding quite a few people to my "favourites" list, and sending out a load of messages to potential suitors, I sat back and waited. After a week, my inbox resounded with a vast, echoing, wind-whistling, tumble-blown silence. I think it is fair to say my ego was a little bruised.

After a few weeks of feeling like Superted pre-super powers (scary voice-over: When he was made, they found something wrong with him... and threw him away like a piece of rubbish!), I cracked and decided to make my profile funnier, and a bit ridiculous ("6 ft tall blonde amazon with teeth that sparkle like diamonds"). These English people (men and women) are extremely witty and eloquent, so no ordinary "nice and normal" write up is going to do the trick. I also changed my profile pic to a more natural, less dressy shot.

Anyway, it either worked; or those cosmic forces that decree as soon as you stop giving a sh*t, you get what you wanted, came into play. A few people have got in touch and some have even added this little teddy bear to their list of favourites. I have been on a couple of dates so far, with a few more scheduled. More to come on that, later.

* * *

You all remember what happened to that bear, don't you? That's right, a Spotty Man from outer space brought him to life with his cosmic dust, took him to a magic cloud where Mother Nature gave him special powers...

That bear became... Super Ted!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

My new t-shirt has a Bad Attitude.

Could come in very handy for future break-ups.

Friday, February 01, 2008

A scene from my childhood

I have been spending my Tuesday nights on a lovely illustration course, with a group of other frustrated graphic designers/desk-top publishers/digital retouchers/account executives. The atmosphere is quietly supportive, with not an overblown ego in sight. It just feels so nice to be back in an educational environment. The hallways and stairwells seem infused with hormones and ideas and hope which has not yet been extinguished.

I don't even know where this style of drawing came from - I have never used it before - but I am trying new materials and methods, and having a lot of fun in the process. It turns out, I like drawing dinosaurs and little kids.

Our first project was based around the statement that "Sometimes, it's good to lie". This is one of the pieces I came up with.
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