Friday, December 24, 2010

Making Christmas Hoff-tastic

Growing up in Australia, I was quite a fan of Neighbours, though I have to admit that my viewing ceased pretty much around the time that Scott & Charlene headed up to Brisbane. I did tune in when Harold got washed off the rocks at the beach, but I never saw how they found him - all I know is that he waded out of the ocean eventually. Weird.

My point is that when I was younger, I recall that Neighbours stars used to go missing all the time and usually around this time of year. As it happened, they would turn up to tread the boards (as they say in the industry), in the London pantomimes.

At the time I didn't know what pantomimes were, but owing to the "mime" part of the word, I guess I figured they were high-brow, but silent pieces of performance art. Then again I used to think that oral sex was talking about it, so full marks for naivety over here.

Where was I? Oh yes, pantomimes.

Last night I went along with Gus the Wonder Dog's parents to Wimbledon, to see my first ever pantomime. The girls had seen Pamela Anderson as the genie in last year's "Aladdin" panto, so they were really looking forward to this year's season.

We saw "Peter Pan" and I can now tell you for sure that a pantomime is the total and unadulterated opposite of what I thought it was. A pantomime is not silent - it is boisterous, raucous and totally entertaining. It is not high-brow either, rather it is engaging, familiar, and for absolutely all ages.

No Neighbours stars made a cameo in the production I saw but hey, when you've got David Hasselhoff hamming it up as Captain Hook, who needs Ramsay Street?!

Our Peter Pan Pantomime (try saying that three times fast) was also a great celebration of campy music and lots of audience interaction. I loved it when we all started boo-ing the Hoff as he hatched his nasty plan to trap the Lost Boys and to kill Peter Pan. Then as Hoff's pirates were sneaking up on the unsuspecting Peter Pan, we all screamed out "They're behiiiiind yooooooou!" - it was so funny, we all got into it. As the Supremes-style trio of singers belted out some great hits, and Hoff's pirates perfected their cruise ship dance routines, we all likewise grooved in our seats - it was a truly great show.

I think what I also liked about the panto is that everybody behaved themselves. Well, everyone except some drunken woman who was lectured by security during intermission for booing the Hoff too consistently. She maintained she was just being enthusiastic. Security dude suggested she'd crossed the line. Awkward.

Another thing I really liked about the panto is that it had nothing to do with Christmas. Sure there were carols playing as we were leaving the theatre, but the show wasn't dripping in yuletide sweetness. In fact, you could stage that panto at any time of year and it would STILL be a hit. I would certainly see another one, no problems at all. As it happens, when the Hoff hangs up his hook soon, his role will be taken over by Jerry Springer. I don't even need to tell you how awesome that would be, right?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Status: Warm and Vertical

After spilling coffee over myself yesterday and subsequently being irritated with life, I was a bit worried about heading out into the big, weird world today. I had made plans with LW to catch up for a Christmas lunch at Putney and while I really wanted to do it, I didn't want a repeat of yesterday or the horrible behind-the-eye headache that it gave me.

My morning turned out to be lovely, giving me the chance to Skype with my parents and otherwise have a lazy lie-in kind of day, which was nice. Before catching the bus I thought I'd do the right thing and take the rubbish out. Given that my sneakers have no treads whatsoever, I went skidding down the three icy back cement steps and ended up lying on my back, contemplating the sky. I stayed there for a few minutes, making sure I hadn't broken my a$$, and fortunately I realised I had emerged quite unscathed. I dropped a couple of f-bombs for good measure, and thanked all the angels and saints that nobody had actually been outside to see me fall.

Hobbling towards the bus stop, I realised that I was running quite early for lunch so when I arrived at the station, I had plenty of time to stop for a coffee. This time I didn't spill a drop on myself, which was probably handy given that I had already succeeded in splotching dirty snow all over my butt - in the same jeans I'd soiled with Starbucks only yesterday. Honestly, my life is THAT ridiculous.

So with dirty jeans, and some time to spare, I sat away from the crowds and warmed myself with some yummy coffee, then caught the train to the lovely Putney neighbourhood.

LW and I then wandered down to Rump, a really lovely steakhouse that advertised a Christmas menu but didn't actually offer it when we were there. That wasn't really a big deal as it turned out, because we were quite content with a cocktail each, a traditional Sunday roast to share, and then a bottle of red wine between us. Oh and I had the creme brulee, which ended up having some sort of Christmas pudding base to it - a bit of a surprise, but not an altogether unpleasant one.

I've returned home tonight with plans to make a roast chicken dinner for my room mates - but none of them are home. I'm not sure if they're likely to wander in any time soon, so I might have to rain check till tomorrow night. We'll just have to see...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Snowy Saturdays and Starbucks

I had a cracking start to my Saturday. I got up early(ish) and made the best cup of Twinings English Breakfast tea, accompanied by hot toast with the perfect ratio of butter to Vegemite. Dressing warmly, I headed out into the light flurries to pay my deposit on the room I'm subletting for the next month.

By the time I got to the new apartment, the snow was coming down much more heavily and, of course, it was falling towards me so I kept getting stinging snowflakes in my eyes. Fellow pedestrians were coming at me from all sides, and it was all very slow going on my part. Deposit paid, I headed back into the storm, thinking that on the reverse journey I might actually enjoy a pleasant walk with the snow at my back. Um, no. Snow will fall wherever the wind blows it and on this particular occasion, the wind was enjoying nothing more than blowing right into my eyeballs again.

I jumped into a charity shop to donate a bagful of clothes, and used the opportunity to dust myself off and chat with the peculiar store owner about the weather, Christmas and the delicious mince pies on sale at M&S.

It is well worth mentioning that all this activity was actually taking place PRE-coffee, so it's ridiculous how nice I was being to everyone. It also explains what happened next.

I shuffled up the High Street, making a mental note to call into Waitrose supermarket so I could buy the ingredients for the beef stew I planned to make. But the first order of proceedings was coffee. The Jamie Oliver store (Recipease) was chock-full of very weird people today, some of whom were most unhelpfully wheeling suitcases around the store. Whyyyyyy?! Needless to say I left the store, abandoned my principles, and headed into Starbucks.

I haven't had Starbucks in ages - probably not since I was last in the US actually. I used to buy it every day, en route to work, and it was nice to know I could still remember my usual order:

Starbucks language: I'd like a venti coffee with room, thanks.

English: I'd like the largest filter coffee you sell, with about an inch of room left in the top - to make room for milk, please.

Coffee in hand, I headed to any empty table and laid out the reading material that I'd brought along with me. I'd taken off my scarf and waterproof coat and settled them into my lap, ready to relax and unwind.

Attempting to shuffle my chair in a bit closer to the table, I leaned my feet on the table leg for leverage and....well, I think you know the rest.

My coffee cup tilted over and hit the table with an awful thud. Every drop of coffee - and I mean every single last bloody drop of it - splashed across the table, over my reading material, down my front, onto my jeans, and all over the floor. I hadn't even had a sip of it.

I didn't cry and I didn't drop the f-bomb. A man at the table next to me materialised with a stack of napkins and I began blotting and mopping up the spill. Another man went off in search of the cleaning crew, and I searched for a way to get the hell out of there without making an even bigger spectacle of myself (if that were indeed possible). My woollen scarf was soaked in coffee, rendering it completely useless, so I didn't even bother getting dressed again - I just left wearing soaking wet jeans and an unzipped hoodie, dragging my waterproof coat with me.

Stomping back down the High Street, the snow falling even more heavy now, there was not a cab to be found. I got back to my bus stop and shivered until the bus FINALLY arrived to take me home.

I'm washing my scarf in the machine right now and I've no idea if I'm going to ruin it or not, cause I never read the laundering instructions on anything anyway. All I can smell is coffee and while that aroma would normally make me indescribably happy, today it just makes me want to cry.

Needless to say I didn't stop in at Waitrose to get the ingredients for my stew - I have lost the mojo to make it now. That might have to be a job for tomorrow.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"I love it when a plan comes together!"

I had a job interview late last year and the guy running the panel asked me whether, in the broader context of my life, I was a planner. I replied that I was not so much a planner; rather I had a rough idea of enjoyable things I wanted to pursue in life; and goals I thought I wanted to accomplish but I suggested that to date, much of my life had been lived as a series of happy accidents.

I didn't get the job.

Now I'm not sure whether I wasn't hired because the guy didn't like my answer to that question, or if all my other answers were complete nonsense but it hardly matters. And anyway, I stand by my answer; I'm not a planner in the strict, driven and one-eyed sense of someone who has always known what she wants to do. But I know what I'm good at and I know what I love to do and insofar as I can, I'm going to steer my life in the directions that work for me.

So it is that I confirmed yesterday that I have holidays between Christmas and New Year. For some weeks I had suspected this to be the case, but because I wasn't planning on doing anything during that period, it had never really occurred to me to follow things up with anyone. Faced with a week of literally no plans, I weighed up my options. Do I explore Europe? Do I hang around London and visit tourist attraction after tourist attraction? Do I sit at home and watch DVDs while snuggled in a quilt with obscene amounts of red wine and chocolate at the ready?

All of those plans sounded pretty good to me - and still do, to be honest.

A bit of Googling and browsing cheap/last minute holiday websites revealed that even a four-day break in a cultural paradise like Venice was going to cost me about 900 pounds. I do love that city but I just couldn't justify spending all that money for four days on my own. It was then that I had my EUREKA moment - brought to me by the letters U, S and A.

After a bit more Googling and website browsing, I found a couple of cheapish deals to Chicago and New York (in and out of Heathrow) all from 27 December to 3 January. It all came together in a way that was almost too good to be true. I'll celebrate four days in Chi-town, my old sweet home, and stay with former room mate LH (who in a freaky and almost psychic twist of fate has holidays EXACTLY the time I'm there). Then it's off to NYC to celebrate NYE with KH - which is so much more than exciting I can't even describe it. Loose plans, but plans nonetheless.

I get the distinct impression that I will still be drinking red wine and eating chocolate, and still be snuggled up in a quilt watching DVDs - I'll just be doing it on a completely different continent.

In my case, not planning was the best plan of all.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Knowing Your Beeswax

I don't think I've used this site for a great deal of critical review in the past - but friends, the time has come. I have just finished watching "Any Human Heart" streamed down the internet superhighway of brilliance from the 4od website, and onto my very own computer screen. Technological marvel, that.

I am not sure if this four-episode miniseries is likely to screen in Australia but if it does, watch it with Kleenex at the ready. And you may wish to print the list of back catalogue films for Matthew Macfadyen from the IMDB website because once you've watched him in this series, you will want to see a lot more of him. Not in THAT sense, ya perverts - sheesh! He was just wonderful. Oh and on the subject of Matthew, you can skip his performance as Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice" - not that he's bad or anything, it's just that the wretched stick insect trying to play Elizabeth Bennett ruins everything. Matthew redeems himself delightfully as the Sheriff of Nottingham in our Russell's "Robin Hood" though, rotten teeth and greasy hair to boot.

I am obviously not good at critically reviewing anything, as I've told you nothing about the plot of "Any Human Heart" - nor am I going to. Just Google it and work out how to get your eyeballs on it. You will not be disappointed. And if you are, then you are an emotional rock and I demand to know how you got through it without bawling. There's a dog in it for heaven's sakes. What's not to like??

Monday, December 13, 2010

It's all about the meat

Today was the staff Christmas lunch for work and it was such a wonderfully relaxed affair. We had our team Christmas party a few night's back, but that had a client focus so we were technically working and schmoozing and all that good stuff. By contrast, today was just about our team - and it was indulgent, relaxed and really wonderful.

We went to Barbecoa, the latest restaurant venture for Jamie Oliver and his fellow chef and business partner, Adam Perry Lang. Located in the new shopping complex next door to St Paul's Cathedral, the restaurant is modern and lovely.

I could smell meat cooking as soon as I walked in the door, which pleased me greatly. We shared starters of crispy pig cheeks; crispy calamari; and baby back ribs. I enjoyed it with a glass of prosecco, but only because I was starting slowly. Then for my main course I had rump steak (cooked perfectly medium rare), and shared some side orders of cannellini beans and also some spinach. My steak came with some eggplant which was nice at the start but as it cooled it got kind of gluggy, so I didn't eat it all. I was just excited to be enjoying my first steak EVER in London and it was so delicious.

All of a sudden, M squeaked that Jamie Oliver was in the house and sure enough, the man himself was shaking hands and moving from table to table to greet lunch guests. Slowly but surely he made his way to our table and we got to have a photo taken with him. I'm not the most photogenic person so I normally hate having my picture taken, but I was pleased to have the chance to see Jamie and say hello and he was so obliging. In fact, I wanted to post the photo to this site, but my computer's settings are playing up so you'll just have to settle for clicking here to view it.

Fast forward a few hours and some more drinks, and we were ready to head out from lunch. The restaurant had emptied out and the sky had grown dark really quickly - something I shall have to get used to up here at this time of year. We all took the glass elevator to the top floor of the shopping complex and got some lovely shots of St Paul's Cathedral and finding a quiet pub for a 'roadie', before heading home again.

As Christmas lunches go, I have to say that this was one of my favourites - not just for the celebrity encounter, but for the delicious food; great location; and wonderful company. We laughed a lot and told stupid stories and enjoyed a delicious meal besides. All terribly adult of us, really but what a way to celebrate a great year (or half-year, in my case).

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Do you hear what I hear?

I'm in quite a fortunate position at the moment with my subletting situation, that I can either take the train or the bus home (well, more accurately I can take the bus then a train then a different bus; or just two buses). Hmm that all sounds convoluted but trust me, it's not. The point is, I have options. Tonight I decided to take the bus-train-bus combo.

I got off the first bus just before Waterloo Station because I'd been on the Time Out London website and read about the Cologne Christmas Market on London's Southbank, and so I wanted to check it out. The website suggests that there are about 60 stalls but perhaps that's only on weekends - tonight there were only about half that amount but it was still really lovely. Not having been to Christmas Market in Germany (save for the Chicago version that also purported to be authentic), I am not sure if this Cologne Christmas Market was like the real thing. But it seemed to have all the ingredients: carols were playing, mulled wine was...mulling?, and English guys with German accents were selling bratwurst in buns nowhere near big enough to accommodate them. All this on the banks of the Thames, complete with sub-zero wind chill.

I bought a couple of Christmas presents and cards for friends & family, plus a mulled wine and bratwurst for myself (it must have been the faux accents what done it). I walked up and down with my refreshments, perusing the various stalls and bemoaning the fact that trying to send some of those gifts home would be a risky - and costly - nightmare. One stall had some great wooden puzzles but I didn't think Australian Customs would take too well to those (they might be OK if you declare it, but I figure why chance it?).

I left the Cologne Market just as it was getting crowded, and I swapped that crowd for the commuter rush in Waterloo Station. Always a soul-destroying exercise.

They tell me that public transport in London completely shuts down on Christmas Day. I suppose that's quite fitting - the one day of the year when we're supposed to be nice to each other, life won't even give us the opportunity to shove someone out the way.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A sneak-peek at a weak week

It's the end of my first week in my sublet accommodation.

I don't have a bad thing to say about the apartment, except that I thought I'd broken the washing machine tonight. The cycle finished and the machine beeped at me, but the door wouldn't open and nothing was happening. I twisted knobs, pressed buttons, flicked switches on and off, and then settled for kicking the thing and swearing at it a bunch of times. The machine is now happily chugging away, swirling my unmentionables around and around. I've got no idea if it will ever release them, but for now things seem to be going smoothly so I'm not going into the kitchen lest I jinx everything.

I've not been in a great mood this week, I'm afraid. Fortunately this has nothing to do with hormones, but rather more to do with the fact that I can't get rid of this sore throat (despite finishing my second course of antibiotics) AND I must be grinding my teeth when I sleep because my jaw is killing me. When I rub my temples I can even feel the pain there, so I must be under more stress than usual.

I don't write all of this to complain, mind. I am just irritated by the holding pattern I seem to be in right now. I know that my living situation isn't permanent; I'm planning our office Christmas party for 200+ people on Wednesday; I've got a bunch of office deadlines looming; and I haven't done a stitch of Christmas shopping.

I got my hair done yesterday and as you know, this bit of pampering is normally my cure-all. Unfortunately I got really annoyed with my hairdresser because he's one of these serial apologisers. We had a bit of a mix-up with my appointment time, and the voicemail message my hairdresser left for me to advise of the time change didn't get to me in time. So after I had to leave the salon for 90 minutes and go off to amuse myself, my haidresser kept apologising to me every 2 seconds. ARGH. If I said "It's okay, these things happen" once, I said it a thousand times. In the end I almost wanted to scream at him, but I don't suppose it's wise to annoy somebody when they're carrying scissors, so I kept my mouth shut. My haircut looks good, by the way.

I spent most of today in my room, which was glorious. After some early technical hiccups, my computer is once again working like it should and I scoured the BBC website for online programs that I hadn't had the chance to watch when they first screened. I have discovered a relatively new show called "Any Human Heart" and I watched both of the episodes available online - the third (and latest) episode screens on BBC tonight at 9pm. Let's pause for a minute and high 5 the BBC for its wonderful programming; I just love it.

I'm well aware of how this latest post is sounding - I'm all over the place and to be honest I'm finding it all really frustrating. I just can't wait until all my ducks are in a row and I'm a bit more settled. When the Christmas party is over (and it WILL be a success, I promise you), I'll be so much happier. I am anxious about it because we've invited people I don't know, and we're having it in a fancy venue that I've not used before. I want to make the evening really special for my bosses, who have been so welcoming to me and also because for two of my bosses, this will be their last London Christmas (they return to Australia in January). The weather forecast for Wednesday suggests things will be cold, but snow is not expected - so hopefully that suggests a good guest turnout. Fingers crossed, please.

For now I'm trying not to think about the scary sounds coming from the washing machine in the kitchen (though even scary sounds are better than silence). I will have a good night's sleep tonight and start afresh tomorrow.

Wish me luck for the Christmas party Wednesday - party pies, Aussie beer, and Christmas carols. How could we go wrong?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Steady as she goes

It's hard to believe that I've been back in London for nearly a week already.

The weather has been pretty shocking, with heavy snowfalls over the past few days especially. I have been reading the online newspapers about deaths in Poland, and indeed across the UK, so while I'm still warm and vertical I really don't think I have anything to worry about.

Come to think of it, I don't reckon it's easy to stay either warm or vertical when the weather gets like this. Mamma bought me a couple of pairs of shoes with really good treads while I was home last week, and one pair has particularly come in really handy this week. The shoes aren't anywhere near proper snow boots, so they're not warm by any stretch, but they have (so far) kept me upright as I try and navigate the slippery, slushy footpaths to my office. I do suspect that if the weather stays like it is, I'm going to have to invest in a pair of proper zip-up boots, similar to the sort I had in Chi-town, but at the moment I'm not in a rush for them.

Speaking of rushing, it always surprises me the number of people (public transport commuters especially) who don't see the point in slowing down when the weather gets like this. They don't walk gingerly, taking good care of themselves and sparing an even fleeting thought for anyone around them. Rather, they run like the clappers for their train/bus, as if it were just another sunny, Spring day. One such lady got her comeuppance right in front of me this morning and it was pretty sweet. Actually that's not fair, she fell pretty hard on the tiled floor of the train station, and it would have hurt. But she bounced - and THAT was the only funny part about it (to me, I mean). I helped her up, which seemed like the right thing to do, and the poor woman was so embarrassed but the only thing I think she hurt was her pride. She also got slushy crap all over her woollen coat, but that's just karma for you really.

I actually love this time of year in the northern hemisphere. The frosty weather is pretty to look at, and even OK to be out in - assuming you're dressed appropriately and don't have TOO far to travel. Commutes to work take way longer than they should, but you just need to adjust to that. This time of year also brings Christmas decorations and I've always been a sucker for fairy lights and tinsel. Anything shiny or sparkly, you know how it goes. We set up our office Christmas tree today and I've been playing Christmas carols through my computer speakers (though this is part of my ongoing campaign to make my boss lose ALL of what remains of his hair).

It's probably too early to tell if we'll have a white Christmas, but we've certainly made a cracking start to it.