Friday, July 29, 2005

Holiday pottery?

A beautiful quote for a Friday, from the good people at Overheard in New York:

Woman #1:
And what about the vacation?
Woman #2:
It was great. But I'm so glad to be back on firma terra cotta.

Dangerous Curves Ahead

While I've been mulling over my job prospects this week, I have been visiting a whole range of job-related websites and recruitment agencies. Verging on desperate at times, I have been entering some rather un-Gab criteria into the search engines.

As a result, I've been browsing the ads placed by people looking for a nanny/au pair to their little darlings. I know, I was as shocked as you are. But sure enough, I was actually reading these ads with some degree of interest. And one of the ads was just priceless.

Placed by a French family, the ad was seeking a person (qualified or not) to look after their two young children. Based in the UK, for the most part, the post would also include some travel to France (mostly) for holidays.

But the best part? Applicants were warned that the family embraces nudism and predominantly vacations at nudist resorts. Anyone wishing to apply for the position was requested to be 100% comfortable with that lifestyle choice.

Sorry to disappoint, folks, but I did not apply. And it's not because I have anything against people in the buff. Oh no. Whatever floats your boat, I say. My reasons for not applying are far more practical than prudish.

I'd venture to suggest that seeing your boss in the nude would signal a rather unconventional employer/employee dynamic, don't you think? And I'm almost certain that once you'd seen your boss's bits on holidays, he wouldn't have any qualms about getting his kit off around the house. It's only logical. And I just don't think I could work like that. Even with the central heating.

Vive la difference!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Oh behave baby, yeah...

I have been corresponding the last few days with a very good friend, who has recently made some revelations that suggest some of her family members were mixed up in the crazy world of European wartime espionnage. And it got me thinking - do I have what it takes to be an ASIO or MI6 recruit?

Okay so we don't have to think too hard about that one.

But it's not that I don't have the requisite skills. Rather, I think it's just because the intelligence organisations are simply too picky. Consider the evidence, if you will. On the face of it, I think I look pretty good - but probing a bit deeper (and we know how the spies love to probe!), you'll find:

  • I am fluent in three languages
    Granted it is a well-known fact that the initial reason Kate and I learned our foreign languages was so we could be trophy wives for rich French counts. Probably not something that ASIO would find appropriate.
  • I am IT savvy
    Far from being able to hack into sophisticated military defence systems, I'm more interested in blogging, doing online crosswords, and working out the latest in the TomKat sham.
  • I will take your personal secrets to the grave
    But not because I am the very soul of discretion, merely because I have a memory like a sieve and am likely to forget something you've told me the minute I hear it.
  • I know things
    I may not be able to erect a tent, or converse with you about communism, or identify the Sultan of Burundi in a line-up, but the knowledge I do have will make your head spin. I can tell you the names of all the Beverly Hills 90210 characters, and sing the entire Bon Jovi back catalogue, and I can have the "M&Ms: Peanut versus Plain" debate until I'm hoarse.

I may be more of a Secret Squirrel than James Bond, but in a cute trench coat and mask (plus sparkly handbag to match), I could be pretty wily. And it's always the ones you least expect, remember.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Who the *!@$ is Alice?

Having overdosed on gangster-style violence in the last few days, courtesy of Don Corleone and his hired goons, I feel the need to immerse myself in something a little less brutal. And a little less related to jam making and other freakishly domestic pursuits.

Responsibility for that had to fall to Charlotte Bronte or Lewis Carroll and it was the latter that won out.

So I have started reading Alice In Wonderland. It's pretty hallucinogenic stuff - has anyone ever mentioned that? Talking mice, smoking caterpillars, dodo birds. The whole gang of extra-sensory lunacy is there. I don't know, maybe I'm cheapening the fantasty of it, but I'm not used to this make-believe stuff. But I will persevere. The Bronte book had too many pages.

I can't let you in here in THOSE shoes, love!

When I was back at home, getting rejected for a job felt like my life was over. Nine times out of ten, I'd put so much effort into the job application, that being told I didn't have a chance at the position (much less an interview) felt like a personal affront and took a while to recover from.

In the early days when I moved to the UK, I applied for so many jobs in such quick succession that I was perversely grateful when the rejections came through. It meant I didn't have to make a commitment about where to live, where to work. It also meant I could delay getting stuck in that 9-5 rut that I knew so well.

But now that I've semi-settled in Scotland, and in somewhat desperate need of cash, I'm starting to think differently about the replies (read: rejections) that have been filling my email inbox. I'm feeling flattened under the sheer weight of them. I'm not even being invited for an interview - despite the clear indication in my CV that I would be willing to relocate to just about anywhere in Europe for the chance to work at something substantial.

In rejecting me, the recruitment people are being polite but dismissive. I know I could seek feedback on the thinking behind each rejection, but I don't know how to ask without sounding defensive. I suspect that I'm perceived to be doing the typical Australian-on-a-working-holiday thing. I'm concerned that they're not keen to give me a job because I don't look like someone who'll stick around. But surely that's not fair? And particularly irrelevant when I've been applying for short-term stints like maternity cover placements and contract posts.

Does anyone have any ideas about how I get to the root of this problem without sounding like I have sour grapes, or accusing them of Antipodean discrimination?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Don't be a goose, it's berry nice

I stood in the kitchen last night and chatted to Betty as she readied herself to produce what looks to become a zany quantity of homemade gooseberry jam. The many pounds of fruit required for this operation came from the vines/bushes/plants at old Davey’s house, further down the lane. Davey is the same kindly gent who supplied us with the delicious rhubarb for our pie the other week. We like Davey.

I can’t recall ever having seen a gooseberry before I arrived in Scotland. I think that if I had encountered it ‘in the wild’ I never would have thought you could eat it. To me, a gooseberry looks like a cross between an eyeball and a hairy green grape. Something you’d throw at someone you didn’t like much, not necessarily something you’d choose to eat.

Needless to say, I was not inclined to sample one last night. And it’s weird, because normally I’m quite courageous with my diet. In truth, I think it’s the fact that the berries were green that turned me off. Did that mean they were unripe? I didn’t think to ask Betty at the time. Maybe you make gooseberry jam with unripe berries, I don’t know. Maybe gooseberries go green when they ripen - oh there are so many things I clearly have to learn.

In any case, I didn’t try a berry last night while supervising Jam Production Stage One. Instead I left that to Armand, who crept into the kitchen like the wee sneak he is, and slyly gobbled some of the berries we’d so carefully measured into ice-cream containers. After some yelling and exasperated fist-shaking at the sky, all much to Armand’s amusement of course, we re-measured the berries and were back in business. I think I was promoted from Passive Observer to Gooseberry Guard from that point onwards.

So now we’re at the stage where the jam production begins in earnest. I’m talking about a massive saucepan on the stove, and so much sugar to pour into it that my teeth hurt at the mere thought. Still, while I was too cowardly to try the gooseberry in its ‘natural’ state, something tells me I’ll slap the gooey, jammy goodness on some toast no worries at all!

Monday, July 25, 2005

We're on the road to nowhere, come on inside

Talking Heads were onto something when they warbled this song. And I bet you two poonds they were singing it about Scotland. Because if you've ever tried to get anywhere in this country, along the highways, byways, waterways, and motorways, you'll quickly realise that street signs are just a guide. They're not prescriptive, and they're certainly not helpful.

Now I don't profess to having the world's best sense of direction, but I can read a map when under pressure and I can certainly tell the difference between the M8 to Edinburgh and the A77 to Dumfries. So when AB and I set off on our weekend tourist drive on Saturday morning, we honestly felt sure we'd find the monuments we were seeking. W-R-O-N-G.

But it wasn't a complete waste of our time. In fact, we had a really lovely weekend. We swapped cameras so we could take pics of each other hamming it up in front of Paisley Abbey and the local Town Hall, Newark Castle, Dunoon Ferry, Balloch Castle, and Loch Lomond. We played 'tourist' in our own town and its surrounds, and it was lovely. Photos to follow, of course.

Next weekend we're getting ourselves organised to take the ferry over to Rothesay in the Isle of Bute, to see the 13th century castle there. And we know where we're going, so it'll be a straight run there - just how the locals do it.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Drama on the High Street

What with all the crap that London has been going through over the last 48 hours, the Paisley Police Force is out in full today. The High Street is therefore more congested than usual. But do you think the residents are on high alert? Hell no. They are certainly not alarmed by the increased police presence. The same old aimless wandering is going on, as usual.

I'd like to think that this is a silent en masse thumb-nosing at the terrorists, a mass show of support for the We're Not Afraid campaign. But alas, I fear that would be giving credit where it is definitely not due. I'd be surprised if these locals had even heard of the anti-terrorism initiative taking their country, if not the world, by storm.

Case in point. Walking behind Mr & Mrs McOld-Fart down the High Street is always a nightmare, particularly so in today's good weather. She stops to chat, he stops to...well, God only knows why he stops. He just does. Right in front of me. Jerk.

I hate lunch hour shopping with a passion. Hated it at home, and hate it here. But it's the only time that office workers really have to get things done. But do you think that the old farts, young mums with prams, and snotty brats, realise this? No. Or perhaps they do, and they're trying to tell me not to work in an office on such a beautiful day, and instead get out in the sunshine and amble, at a snail's pace, down the High Street all day? Smug bastards.

I'm not a pheasant plucker

Over the past few days, a culinary idea has been taking shape in the house and has had us all in varying degrees of anticipation. It's an old family favourite of Betty's and its preparation takes a lot longer than 90 seconds on high in the microwave. Yes friends, I'm talking about game pie. Its preparation is a labour of love; a time-honoured tradition in Betty's family dating back to the time of Christ. Okay maybe not that far, but at least one or two generations. And she is a brilliant cook, manufacturing everything from the pastry to the filling. No store-bought dinner here, folks.

Back in Australia, my experience of game was limited to venison, which I love. Nothing better than the venison pies at the Mount Compass bakery on the way to Victor Harbor, as many Adelaideans would agree. So when game pie was first mentioned as a menu item, I was quite pleased. Little did I realise that local game pie is exactly that - stuffed to the crust with whatever game is local to the area.

In a few days time we'll be feasting on a pie containing rich meaty chunks of pheasant, pig, AND chicken. There may be some vegetables in there to fend off complete arterial shutdown, but there has been no confirmation of this.

I've been going out to hang my washing on the line, and walking past the deep freezer, ontop of which has been defrosting a scraggly looking pheasant. I don't believe it was the same pheasant that flew into the backyard the other week and then ogled Batreg and I from outside the kitchen window. All the same, I couldn't resist giving it a little prod with my finger the other day. Nothing happened. The next time I see it, will be under mountains o'meat and rich, lip-smacking gravy.

Score check: Me 1; Pheasant 0. It's only a game, after all.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

What's up, Don?

My library made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

The copy of "The Godfather" was on the shelf when I called in to return some books the other day. I've never read the book, and I've never seen the films (sorry, Adam - I know they're a favourite of yours). But I'm redressing that now. I've jumped headlong into it, and am so far really enjoying the seedy criminal underworld of 1940s America. I love it so far.

My holiday reading has been really diverse. AB's about to get stuck into the latest Harry Potter instalment, but that's not really my thing. Instead I've been reading those good-for-a-weekend-but-won't-change-your-life romance novels and books that would make good 'chick movies'. Nothing high brow need apply.

And so Don Corleone and his ragtag family of fun loving criminals makes a nice change. Easy to see that I'm only about 5 chapters in, huh? I hear this book gets pretty nasty in parts and I can't wait.

Popculture's Weasel

Thanks to an 11pm epiphany, I feel I need to make an unreserved intergalactic apology for yesterday's posted gaff.

To Buzz Lightyear, I say SORRY for attributing the "Never Give Up - Never Surrender" motto. Because, as we all know, it was the crew of the Galaxy Quest, captained by Jason Whats-his-name who bellowed the catchry in the movie of the same name.

But you can understand the mistake - both characters are voiced by Tim Allen; both are spacemen (of sorts); both are in the movies (okay now I'm clutching).

Clearly, by the power of Panadol, my brain went to infinity and beyond yesterday. I believe it's back now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Fear, Surprise, and a Ruthless (In)efficiency

I think I have run the entire gamut of my emotions already today.

Through some spirit of karmic retribution, my earlier post about feeling idle at work has resulted in a torrent of paperwork flooding my desk. As a result, I have never typed so much work-related crap in my life. Coupled with that, I had a meeting at the bank today, in a last-ditch attempt to secure a bank account, while simulteanously preserving my sanity, and not harming the bank staff.

All I can say is, the money launderers and bank robbers have ruined it for the rest of us. I mean, nobody trusts anybody anymore. AB and I turned up at the bank, requisite identification documents in hand (well, in bag), ready to sign any forms and answer any questions.

Being the chicken-shit institution that they are, the bank sent out its Employee Just Out Of Puberty award-winner, whom I shall call Stephen (because that was his name).

Let me just say that we liked Stephen, so we kept our cool and didn't hurt him when he delivered the bad news that our pristine collection of ID-proving documents were insufficient to get us a bank account at this time. Ever the optimist, Stephen jollied us along with his we'll-get-that-bank-account-for-you-soon Mouseketeer spirit, and I got sucked in. The headache that was threatening to engulf my head must have been distracting me.

In any case, we left the bank, somewhat dejected but not defeated, resolving to get the last piece of paper we need before the bank will give us the Holy Grail we have been so desperately seeking - the savings account.

So while this whole banking debacle has been more Python than Lightyear, I'd like to pause and reflect on a Buzz-ism when I say, Never Give Up - Never Surrender.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Seeing how far the rabbit hole goes

Forgive me for stating the obvious here, but I'm not overworked right now. I'm not even under any sort of pressure. The biggest decision I have to make each day is what to wear to work. And even then, I know that the consequences of my decision are not what you'd call dire. So my attention has turned to dressing up my blog, uploading my photos (maxing out my Flickr account in the process), and surfing the World Wide Web.

You may have noticed that my list of links on the right hand side of this page has got a bit longer in recent weeks. I've found it a mind-boggling and eye-crossing wonder world out there. So many creative people writing so many varied blogs. I read one and just when I've learned something about that author, I want to know what blogs they're reading, so I click on their links. And so it goes. It is really easy to get lost in the 'matrix' that is Blogland, but I love it.

My online reading tastes are as diverse as my 'real' ones. I am currently devouring anything from sexual politics, workplace scenarioes, and socio-commentaries, to the trials of living abroad in France and Scotland, and the challenges presented by first-time fatherhood. I find the comments section on these sites as entertaining as the blog posts themselves. There are some clever, evocative people out there. With as much time on their hands as me right now, or so it would seem.

There's lots of fodder out there to keep a distracted girl like me amused for hours. Staying in Wonderland and getting lost down this Internet rabbithole is fun, educational, and (most importantly for me right now), time-consuming.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Hey Jude, don't be afraid

So Jude Law is having a hard time keeping his pecker in his pants, eh? He has admitted to cheating on Sienna Miller (the 23-year old fashion 'icon'), and having an affair with his children's nanny. Perhaps it's something about the smell of Clag and baby vomit. Yummy.

And I join the chorus of voices around the world when I bellow: WHO CARES?!

Let me kiss you, Mr Bureaucrat

Last week ended rather abruptly for me, with a quick trip to the supermarket. I don't know why I think these trips are going to go smoothly, because they never do.

Invariably I am left a shuddering and wimpering mess in the frozen food section, while scores of children and old people jostle past me for discounted cod fillets and 2 for 1 mini-pizzas. And all of this after a day at the office, 10 minutes before my bus (the last bus of the day) is due to take off from its stop. So it's a mad rush through the shop, to the check-out, to marvel at just how slow a 16 year old boy can move. I bet he can operate Playstation like a demon, but can he bleep my shopping?! The pensioner I knocked over in the cereal aisle could move faster than he can.

Why is it that you can be doing so well to get through the store, that you end up choosing the slowest cash register lane EVER. Or just when you get to the front, the register roll runs out, or there are no more 20p pieces bla bla? It's a killer.

If you've been reading these posts over the last few weeks, you know I have had no luck mastering the Scottish bureaucracy. Getting myself registered, working, paid etc has proven to be a big hassle and my mental fortitude is fast running out. So imagine my elation when Saturday's postman brought me a little brown envelope containing (wait for it) my NATIONAL INSURANCE NUMBER woohoo yay way to go! My little plastic insurance card is still being laminated in some bureaucratic black hole in south-western Wales or somewhere, but at least I've got my number. AND inside of the 12-week timeline the lady gave me! This is the public service alive and well in Scotland, people. Marvel if you will, but for God's sake don't get used to it.

So do you know what this means, now that I am a card-carrying (almost) nationally-insured person? It means I can pay taxes to the wonderful Government of this fabulous nation, this is so great! Yes, I've gone nuts. Thank you for not pointing.

Friday, July 15, 2005

When life gives you lemons...

ask for tequila and salt (or so 'they' say).

Well at lunch time today, I didn't slam tequilas, or even slam any bankteller heads into plexiglass - as I'm sure you feared I would (judging by my last post anyway) - oh no. At lunch time today I cut Batreg's lunch. And it felt sooo good.

I'm not actually advocating lunch-cutting as a standard practice between friends, but I couldn't help it. Gregg and I are simply meant to be together. To suggest that today's liaison was all Gregg's fault isn't really fair. As it was, I approached him. And it's not like they have an agreement or anything (a la not seeing other people bla bla). Because believe me, Gregg sees a LOT of people. Many of them women, but he's not actually fussy about that, now that I think about it.

And I'll admit, like other people no doubt, today I used Gregg for his fudge donuts. No, that isn't a euphemism, you dirty-minded scoundrels. Gregg makes the best (and only) fudge donuts I've ever tasted in Scotland or anywhere else. Caramel icing, custard-filled berliner-style gooiness.

I love Gregg. And I'm not sharing (the donuts OR Gregg).

You are the weakest link! Goodbye.

If you've been keeping up with my exploits in Scotland, you will be well aware of the hoops I've jumped through, and the red tape I've cut through, just to start existing here. And while I'm sure it's the same way for any international student or visitor coming to a new land, I am starting to get a severe case of the irrites with the whole thing.

Batreg broke the news to you yesterday about her lack of success in charming the bank staff sufficiently to issue her a bank account. Well I had no luck there either. Actually I was advised of my failure before her, but kept it quiet on the account of acute depression. I've been in such disbelief about the reluctance of Scotland's bureaucracy to welcome us, as fellow Commonwealth citizens, that I simply couldn't mention it.

Now I'm alternating between incredulity and insanity. One minute I'm shocked, the next I'm angry, the minute after that I'm (to steal and Aussie-ism from Kath & Kim), gropable.

And it's not like we're the first people from overseas to want UK bank accounts, so I was expecting some degree of rigmarole, but come on people! Cut us some slack. Either that, or help us out. But don't you dare just stand there on the other side of your bullet-proof (or tourist proof?) plexiglass screen and try and empathise with my situation. Because really, you have no idea how frustrating this is.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Read all about it

In a desperate attempt to flee the stuffy environment of my Office at lunch time, I escaped into the fresh air, and found myself at the library. Not having any money in my purse the day before payday, it was probably my subconscious guiding me into this cash-saving haven. Yay me.

And I'm not sure whether it is a hangover from my last post about Disney movies, but I left the book emporium carrying a copy of Lewis Carroll's The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. I realised that despite being a fan of Walt's take on the work, I have never actually read the book.

I am one of those people for whom classical literature was not completely ruined by studying English at school and University. In fact, "To Kill A Mockingbird" (read for the first time in Year 10) is my hands-down favourite book, closely followed by "Pride and Prejudice", that I discovered in Year 12 and then gratefully revisited courtesy of Colin Firth and the BBC. [Editor's Note: Full marks to the Beeb for the just-out-the-water-in-a-wet-shirt scene, a personal fave]

By way of observation, the number of light, frothy books in libraries and bookshops these days never ceases to amaze me. I know you're not always looking for a movie (or a film for that matter) that will 'change your life', but there's only so much of the Bridget Jones genre that I can take. Boy meets girl; boy shags girl; boy shags girl's best friend; girl drinks countless vodkas with real friends to get over it; boy meets untimely demise masterminded by slighted girl and pissed posse; girl finally feels vindicated and receives unrelated job promotion. Bo-ring, but undeniably just the thing for a rainy afternoon.

But just before you think I'm getting a bit self-righteous and book-snobby, I am also keen to get stuck into the second book I borrowed today, one about a bunch of horny 20-somethings who respond to a newspaper ad and then wake up on a desert island and the anthropological experiment begins. WA-HEY. Perhaps a modern homage to The Lord of the Flies? Nah, more likely it will be Big Brother in speedos. Bring it on.

Lights, Camera...then what?

I've been reading the Internet Movie Database with a vengeance this week, quietly smiling to myself at the thought of Mr Depp about to hit my screens as Mr Wonka. Can't wait for that. My love of Roald Dahl, plus my devotion to Johnny Depp, plus my admiration for Tim Burton will make Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a heavenly coupla hours for me, I think. Something tells me Kate is going to see this one a few times.

Another movie I'm waiting for is Madagascar, and I don't need to wait long - it's out tomorrow here. From Spielberg's DreamWorks stable, home to the lovable ogre Shrek, the film features the voice talents of the fabulous Ben Stiller, among others. I'm a big fan of animated movies. My sister and I went through a big stage of buying up Disney movies for their timeless appeal and old-fashioned romance and musical numbers. Love it.

It's a good time for a dreamer like me to be going to the cinema. I couldn't watch a REAL movie if I'd wanted to. In the UK anyway, it's all about the Fantastic Four, Sin City, Star Wars et al. Not that I mind one bit; after all, escapism and butter popcorn are two of my favourite things.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Clogged up by lardy goodness

When I admit to people that I've come to Scotland because of the accents, I am being shallow. And misleading.

Two significant things I was looking forward to indulging in were Scottish food and drink, and this interest was rekindled following my positive dining experience in Paris at the weekend.

Now I'm not a whiskey drinker, but at the time of leaving Australia back in February, I was willing to give it a go. And still am, having collected armfuls of brochures advertising distilleries and Whiskey Appreciation Centres (aka pubs) dotted around the Scottish countryside. I've now tried Tennants lager, and can recommend it - for when the Coopers runs out, of course.

And as for food, I've commented already that I've settled into the bacon roll, tattie scone, and neeps & tatties culture (not all in the one meal of course), but the piece de resistance was THIS breakfast fryup served to Daz in Edinburgh.

A Scottish fry-up

Of course, there is nothing odd about it. In fact, this plate looks quite appetising in comparison to some I've seen. And I seem to recall it looking particularly good to my bleary eyes. But note the little ring of haggis smiling up at you from the plate. Even in a hungover state, one will pause before one shovels haggis into one's mouth. Trust me. The Heinz sauce you see above got a workout over the plate shortly after I took this shot.

Like any fry up, the Scottish one has to have lard, unidentifiable ingredients, and more lard. Yummy when hungover, scary when not.

The Paisley Pigeons

Over at Batreg's lair, she recently commented on the nudist proclivities of the Paisley male folk, as they cast off their shirts to crisp themselves in a rare display of sunshine here yesterday.

I know that in posting that social observation, it was not AB's intention to conjure up any images of Baywatch hunks or LA's Muscle Beach. If you had that in mind, that is all your own doing.

Let me assure you that the topless men strutting the streets yesterday are more pigeon-chested than the feathered vermin that circle High Street above our heads! We're talking scrawny arms, shaved heads, baggy-bum jeans (with the plaid shirts tucked into the back pocket), and rhythmic head-bobbing saunter. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between the boys and the birds, if not for the feathers! Trust me, no baby oil or screaming girls need apply here.

Perhaps "Someone Upstairs" (you know who) was aggrieved by the Skinny Streakers yesterday too, because today is much cooler and the long sleeves are back on. Hehe sucked in.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Hold onto your server folks!

Being away from Scotland the last few days has given me a break from the media madness in the wake of London's bombing disaster. But I was quite interested in the link emailed to me this morning, to a website that invites people from all over the world to submit images showing they will not let terrorism stop them living their lives.

The website is refreshed every hour, and the images are rolling on in. The only thing these people have to be afraid of is a server meltdown as ordinary people from around the world scramble together for solidarity! Away from the message itself, I think there are some quite impressive shots on the website, reminding me that there really are some creative (and decidedly unafraid) people out there.

Do you know the way to San Jose?

I like to think I'm good at geography, while acknowledging that I'm rubbish at navigation and map-reading generally. For my way of thinking, I'm good at geography in the sense of foreign customs, languages, and traditions. I like to know about people in faraway places, how they live and what they do. I've come to appreciate this through some rather nerdy means.

As a younger person, I used to be quite good at the game, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? I could identify quite a number of different flags and customs, and locked away some baddies for Interpol along the way. I watched as much David Attenborough nature programs as my little head could handle. My Year 6 class teacher taught me everything I didn't want to know about South America, and my recent travel experiences have made me love and then hate the Wright brothers for inventing aeroplanes.

But if geography is also about the lay of the land, and being able to look at a map and point to my country of choice, clearly I suck big time. Thanks to my Aussie chum Shedes, I am going spare trying to get a good score for Australia in this little online game. This addictive, terribly disconcerting online game.

I encourage you to give it a go and see whether you can drag Australia out of the slump I've thrown it into. Sorry team!

How the other half lives

Bonjour Paris

I have just spent the most perfect weekend in Paris, having had a literal taste of how the other half lives. The most notable part of my weekend was the lunch to celebrate Jaime's 30th birthday. Our venue of choice? The Jules Verne restaurant, half-way up THE Eiffel Tower.

Flying in on Friday night, Kate met me at Porte Maillot, where the airport bus dropped me off. After a couple of Metro changes, we made it to Kate's new apartment in Montmartre, that she shares with her British friend, Nicky. I have posted some pics of Kate's new apartment on Flickr. Click here if you want to check them out.

Daz and J were spending Friday night at a hotel designed by Christian Lacroix in the Marais district, where Kate used to live. So Kate and I caught the Metro out there to see them. We had some wonderful drinks and whole-shell peanuts, and chatted and laughed for hours. Before I knew it, it was midnight and we were wishing Jaime a HAPPY 30TH BIRTHDAY in real time, it was great. Kate and I then went out till 5am but let's not dwell on that. Suffice to say I wore my sequinned black halter top, and met a Sicilian. Two high points of the evening that probably don't need elaboration.

The boys had gone nuts at the designer boutiques in Paris, shopping at Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, to deck themselves out for the Saturday lunch. They arrived at Kate's place at midday, as arranged, and fortunately found Kate & I ready to go. We felt like crap, but we were dressed.

I had bought a stretchy brown dress with an A-line skirt and plunging front and back. In my excitement about the occasion, I neglected to buy Hollywood tape. This meant I was risking a Janet Jackson-style wardrobe malfunction all day. I didn't think the Eiffel Tower staff would approve, so as you can see from the photo I posted above, I kept my green shawl wrapped around me at all times. I think it looked alright though. I was so impressed with the way we ALL looked though - Kate's floaty green chiffon dress was beautiful and the boys cut really mean figures in their fantastic suits. Sigh. We really looked the part.

Entering the Jules Verne by private elevator was ritzy in itself. I don't know how she did it, but Kate installed us at THE best table in the place. I am sure it was also the table Tom Cruise sat at to propose to Katie Holmes just a few weeks earlier. Well, it's the one I would have picked. Our view was uninterrupted and because the weather was so good, we could see plenty of monuments and landmarks.

We enjoyed a bottle of Moet et Chandon, and a delicious red wine (the name of which I have forgotten already). I had a main course of beef fillet with a rich, sticky gravy, vegetables and a potato dish. Then my dessert was a fantastic passionfruit sorbet with berry jelly underneath. Bliss. I didn't have any of the cheese plate, but I was still able to admire the array of cheeses in the trolley the waiter brought to our table (yes, a whole trolley). I thought Kate was going to crawl into it and happily die there.

At about 5pm, after our desserts, the waiter asked if we wanted to take our coffees in the bar area so we could enjoy a different view of Paris than the one we had been admiring over lunch. The city is might impressive, and really sprawling. We had eaten our fill, and sitting there in silence to admire the view was all we wanted to be doing.

But we found the strength to pay the bill (eek!), and walk out on the promenade deck to take some photos. Of course we were just like the pleb tourists then, just with snazzier clothes for the occasion. Our cameras got just as much of a workout as theirs.

A fantastic lunch, and a beautiful weekend. Shame that you have to come back to reality after something like that, huh?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Oops! I did it again

I know I said I wasn't going to post anything else today about the terror situation in London, but I can't help it.

Not being home means I've got no one to share how I feel about what has happened. Instead, I've been overdosing on web-based news footage; graphic photostreams on Flickr; and blog entries from equally stunned wannabe writers like me.

If I was back in Australia right now, I'd be sitting on my couch, glued to the TV, trading can-you-believe-its and this-is-incredibles with my mother. Most likely. But instead I'm overseas, miles away from anyone who cares what I think about things like this. So I resort to sharing it here. Sure, it's one-way communication, but at least it's an outlet. Indulge me, if you dare.

I remember dealing with the 9/11 attacks the same way. When Sandra Sully told me about the Twin Towers on the late news, I gaped like a goldfish in sheer disbelief. I was house sitting then, so I was alone. I reached for the phone, not minding it was 11pm Aussie time, and rang Mum. She picked up the phone after about 1/2 a ring. The hushed, urgent voice down the phone whispered, "hello?" and I launched into "can you believe this? What's going on? What do you know?" interrogation. But we talked on the phone, and listened to Sandra simultaneously.

And like the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath, I find myself like some sort of morbid sponge. Back then I soaked up every bit of information I could, and did it all again once the one-year anniversary rolled around. Is it some sort of perversion that makes me do this? If it's information I'm seeking, you would think I'd feel better having it. But no, it actually depresses me (DUH) and then I look for that glimmer of hope somewhere. I looked for it then, and I look for it now.

Clearly my happy news came from the one-line text and email from my friends, not from the news bytes of CNN or the others. Hearing they were safe and well effectively disconnected me from the tragic situation in London. And yet I can't look away from it.

Is that wrong?

The important things

The events in London have dominated world media, and my own Internet perusals included. I am not prepared to comment about terrorism, tragedy or other such issues, but I do want to send this short message out to my 2 Adelaide friends based in London:

To Stoney and Groovy Gems - I'm so glad that you are both safe, well, and were able to message me quickly today (SMS and email rocks). I'm really relieved that my two favourite Londoners are doing well. Keep safe, girls and we'll have
a Coopers eventually. [I know I keep promising].

There's no use crying over it

It's not until you leave a jug of milk in your office overnight and realise the morning after that you've made some kind of stinky cheese, that you start to think how long it's been since you had a black coffee. And one taste of said black coffee reminds you why you stopped drinking it in the first place. Blech.

Oooh speaking of coffee, guess what? AB tells me that Listerine has produced caffeine tabs, similar to the translucent peppermint tongue thingies that are popular the world over. Am yet to see the proof myself but WA-HEY it could be a rather different way to wake up in the morning.

And another thing, I'm not sure why it is that the first burst of Scottish sunshine in a while has made me put on my strappy pink shoes. Firstly I had trouble doing them up (which strap goes at the front of the damn things?), and secondly I have to walk in them! The High Street here in Paisley is not built for strutting in stilletos. I just wish someone had told me that earlier. PS, the shoes look pretty good though *wink*

When your number's up

Every night when I get home from work, we have dinner. Then after we've eaten, AB and I sit down to nut out the puzzle page from The Times. We battle the crossword; the Polygon; and the puzzle-that-has-stopped-the-nation, Soduku.

I'm talking about a puzzle so famous and so addictive that we've recently had a TV show broadcast across the UK featuring celebrities trying to nut out the solutions live on air. You know you've made it when celebrities risk real-time ridicule trying to work you out!

I'm not sure whether my Aussie readers will have encountered Soduku. And for all of its 'fadness' (to create a Gab-ism for the moment), the Internet doesn't seem to have a catch-all page to describe it to you. But I did find this one page, that tries to explain the rules, then gives you a shot at solving a sample puzzle. It also has a cheat button, if you need it - no such luxury with the newspaper version.

There are also PDF versions of the daily puzzle on newspaper websites, so people can go nuts on public transport, frantically scribbling number combinations across the grid (presumably to take their mind off the hell-cat bus drivers!).

Batreg and I can be known to go cross-eyed; hurl pens; drink copious amounts of coffee; and say rather rude words several times over, when a Soduku puzzle we're working on looks like it's solved, but we've buggered it up in one square without realising, and thrown the whole thing out.

So I challenge you to get involved in this numbers game, but be warned. Once you get started, it's very hard to stop. Think about when you started playing Tetris. How long was it before you started seeing little coloured blocks in your sleep?!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Strewth and crikey

All this talk about Olympic bids and Live 8 and "why are you living here anyway?" has made made miss Australia like you wouldn't believe.

I miss large jars of Vegemite; hamburgers with the lot made to order; Fasta Pasta; cheap house red; and Coopers beer.

So when I stumbled across a funny site today, I knew I had to share it with you. The content is allegedly beamed across the world to help foreign people learn all they can about the big, brown land of Oz. You've probably seen some of the info in gag emails, but it's worth another look if you get time. Enjoy!

Jolly good news old chap, but then...

So London has won the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games, huh? I was secretly crossing my fingers for the land across the Channel to be honest. I haven't been to London yet, but I just think Paris is a cool place, and would have been an elegant, contemporary host.

Think about it for a minute. If Paris had won the bid, we would have seen:
  • designer uniforms for the athletes;
  • kisses before and after the races;
  • quality coffee and pastries right across the City;
  • reliable transportation;
  • consistent weather; and
  • French men.

If London can offer me any or all of these things, I'll change my tune.

Has anyone lost a lung?

There is a woman down the corridor here at work who has been hacking up her lungs over the last few days. She has one of those bone-shaking coughs and it sounds positively awful. It would not surprise me if she is doing herself permanent damage by lurching and wheezing like she has been.

And while I have sympathy for her condition, it only extends so far. Go home and stay there till you get better. If you give ME what you've got, look out.

Get well soon.

But it would be cool, though


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Come on, Friday

Now it's not that I don't like my job at the University, it's just that I don't like being bored. And it seems a scary coincidence that I am REALLY bored at the Uni. I have decided to stick out my 4-week additional placement, then look for something more inspiring, and something that pays a little better. I figure I can be shallow on my gap year, and go where the cash is.

Eiffel Tower

The cash I have saved so far is taking me to Paris this Friday, to enjoy a glamorama lunch half-way up the Eiffel Tower, at the ritzy Le Jules Verne restaurant.

Kate tells me that to access the restaurant, we need to sashay down (or up?!) a red carpet, past the tourists waiting to climb the Tower's forty million stairs. As patrons of the restaurant, we are transferred by an elevator. La-dee-da.

I am also promised substantially better weather in Paris this time of year. You might recall that when I arrived in February, and then re-appeared in May, the weather alternated between Siberian gulag, and semi-sunny comfort. I already know that the company will be first-class, so here's hoping for some consistent sunshine, accompanied by some mouth-watering (and pronouncable) dishes.

Bon appetit!

What money CAN'T buy in Scotland

I've already blogged a few times about the Aussie goodies I can find in local Scottish supermarkets. No problems stuffing my face with Vegemite (albeit in small jars), and countless packets of TimTams from Tesco.

But here is an example of what money can't buy here. No supermarket in this country, or any other, could stock such a valuable commodity. Sigh.


Back off, dirtbag

I know it may sound paranoid, but sometimes I think the universe really is out to get me. And it can be relatively small and stupid things that confirm it. Take today, for instance.

AB has finished her temp assignment at the Council, but I've been extended for four weeks (oh, didn't I tell you that? Yay me). Anyway, I've been getting up and out the house early by myself the last few days. It's a lonely existence, having breakfast alone in a quiet house, trying desperately not to clang dishes in the sink for fear of waking everyone. But I digress.

Not only did I clang dishes and slam doors this morning - while I was actually trying to be quiet - I dropped my lipstick on the lid of the ceramic toilet seat and it made a God Almighty crash. I suppose the expletive that escaped my lips sounded delightful when echoing off the bathroom walls too.

All of this noise was followed up with some deafening sneezing and blowing of nose, when I categorically declared myself to be allergic to the house. All the fields, cut grass, pipe smoke, perfume, dog hair - it all combines to give me the itchiest, runniest, snottiest nose I've ever had. And I believe I alone am keeping Mr Kleenex and his Mini-Tissue enterprise afloat.

Emerging from the house shaken, but not stirred, I crossed the road to await the bus. I didn't have to wait long, and I was greeted by Evil Kanevil, the smiling but inherently evil bus driver. I had not even sat down and he was already foot to the floor, so I had to fight the urge to release the expletive from my mouth and instead, collapsed into my seat. I spent the rest of the 15 minute journey gripping the seat infront of me, and trying to keep all my belongings contained as we hooned around hairpin turns and screamed off Motorway exits.

All I ask is that I arrive at work in one piece, with my sinuses intact. I don't care if it all goes to hell at 10am, because by then I will have had my coffee and be ready to deal with that sort of thing. Until then, I ask that the Fates; the Furies; and Chaos the Universal Bully, just bugger off and let me get on with it.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The mental deluge

I read a neat little story this morning that dragged me out of my Monday-itis. It would seem that collaborative thought exercises have fallen prey to the neverending quest for political correctness.

Whatever will the public sector do now? Classic.

Going to Edinburgh was a 'capital' idea

I am back at work this morning, having spent the weekend in Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland. The posts in the lead-up to this journey made much of the "Make Poverty History" march, and the thousands of people who would effectively be making a pilgrimage to Edinburgh to participate in it.

I needn't have worried about the crowds, as it turns out. If you know me at all, you'll have worked out that I'm not much of a morning person. I can get up and out the house early if I have to, but it's not my idea of a good time. So given this side of myself, and the crowds I knew would be descending on the Scottish capital, AB and I did not care about being on Saturday's first train to Edinburgh. In fact, we did not set off until after 11am.

We caught the bus to Paisley, as I do every morning to come to work. It was a surprise for our bus driver to see AB and I clamber on the skinny, white-knuckle-ride bus with our mini suitcases and casual garb. If our luggage didn't give us away, we were all smiles and hopeful expressions, so the bus driver knew we were off on an adventure of some kind, I'm sure.

The train to Glasgow Central left shortly after we arrived at the station, so we didn't need to wait around at all. I was a bit apprehensive, because I knew that upon arrival at Glasgow, we'd need to walk through the City to Glasgow Queen Street station, and change trains for Edinburgh. But Glasgow is a super-easy city to get around, and finding Queen Street was dead simple. Both stations are clean and modern, and the trains are smooth and run on time. The journey to Edinburgh took about 45 minutes and though there was not much scenery to admire, we did pass through some lovely towns that warrant a return visit when we have time.

Arriving at Edinburgh Waverly station was not the crush of people I was expecting. Lots of people wearing white (as Sir Bob had asked people to do), made me feel guilty for forgetting and instead wearing my khaki green ANZAC tshirt. Bummer, missed that one. A quick phone call to Nat, one of the Adelaide girls we we met in Turkey, and we arrived at her workplace called Eccovino, a funky wine bar on Cockburn Street. After a cleansing glass of prosecco and a bruschetta of goat cheese, sweet onion, and olive tapenade (naturally), we were ready to hit Princes Street shopping district and find Batreg some 'going out' shoes.

To get to Princes Street we had to go right over the Waverly bridge (back past the train station, where we'd just come from). The protesters cut up through the Park and down sections of Princes Street that had been cordoned off. The sea of white-clad protesters gave me goosebumps, and still does when I think about it.

I took some photos of the protesters, chanting their "Make Poverty History" slogans and blowing their whistles. It was a magic sight, all these people united in a march down the cobbled streets in the shadow of the beautiful Edinburgh Castle. I loved it.

Cut to later that afternoon, and we're on the Royal Mile with an after-work Nat, and our friend Susie (also a Turkey pal, hailing from Adelaide). We enjoyed some afternoon tea and people watching, then way too many beers with Nat at Belushi's, a neat bar/hostel down by the train station (again?!).

When Darren and Jaime arrived later that night, there was some rather confused SMS communication and phone conversation to rendez-vous at the flat the boys had rented, and where we would be staying overnight. The flat was in a prime location, just up from the Royal Mile near the Castle, but in a relatively quiet part of the street. We had dinner at an Italian cafe, then wandered across the street for a few pints.

A sore head on Sunday morning (maybe I was poisoned?!), and I was first up out of bed, in the shower, and ready with my coffee on the couch. Once everyone got organised, we went to a cafe for brunch where I finally tasted some of Darren's Haggis - a crucial part of a Scottish breakfast fry-up. Haggis actually tastes a lot like the stuffing you get in a chicken, but a bit spicier. Not unpleasant, but not something I'd particularly order for myself.

After brunch, we walked along the Royal Mile, calling into various museums and trinket shops along the way. We visited "Camera Obscura" which is a museum-type place full of holograms, illusions, and magic. As the name implies, there is also a Camera Obscura which, as all you latin-philes out there would know, means dark room. It houses a camera that gives you a birds-eye view of what's happening in Edinburgh and you can rotate the lens to spy on pedestrians and get a general view of the City. Rather cool.

When we left the boys, and the City, behind at 5pm, we were absolutely exhausted. But we also knew we had not seen even a small part of the wonders that Edinburgh has to offer. Clearly we need to return when we have a lot more time. I had a really enjoyable weekend in Edinburgh, and I can't wait to go back. The city has a really comfortable feel to me, and has ancient architecture, but a culture for young people. I am really looking forward to getting back there.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Chew, swallow, and repeat

Did you know that the world's record for keeping a lifesaver lolly in the mouth - with the hole intact - is 7 hours and 10 minutes? An awfully long time, and a complete waste of time if you ask me, but there you go. I just pass on the trivia, people.

Inspired by batreg's recent post about her new baker boyfriend Gregg, I thought I'd ponder awhile on the gastronomic adventure I've had so far.

Let me say at the outset that I am not afraid of trying new foods. The top 3 unforgettable dining experiences I've enjoyed so far on this trip are as follows:

  1. Hong Kong - the sesame pudding, given to us as a special Chinese treat at the Nathan Street restaurant. BLECH.
  2. France - the mountain o'meat and sauerkraut I shared with Kate's dad in Alsace. Fortunately no pictures were taken, because I can't bear to think of it again. The indigestion days afterwards was enough.
  3. Turkey - ordering a kebab from a restaurant in Istanbul, built under the Bosphorous Bridge (linking Asia and Europe). The kebab meat was served in a bowl, on top of fries, covered in tangy sauce and sour cream. An unconventional way to eat a kebab, for sure.

I'm looking forward to enjoying some traditional Scottish cuisine while I'm here too. I've already had neeps and tatties (boiled turnips & potatoes mashed together), and I've loved the tattie scones with a Sunday morning fry-up.

I guess the only thing that's left is the big one: Haggis. Washed down, of course, with the finest Highland Scotch whiskey. Och, that's magic, sure it is.