Sunday, December 11, 2011

Scoundrels

One of my favourite things about living in London is the live music scene. There are bands and musicians playing every week, from the totally unknown to the internationally renowned. Being a huge music fan I've taken advantage of this as much as possible (though not as many times as I would like - an issue I intend on rectifying fully over the coming months, especially now that I live so close to one of London's most preeminent musical suburbs), but I've not really talked about it here because I figured hearing me gush about how great any gig was would be considerably less exciting than actually being there.

That said, I also love it when people put me onto amazing new music. So, in the name of musical education, I wanted to tell you about the brilliant band I saw on Saturday night.

I have to admit, my track record for getting places on time has been shocking this year. I tend to think London is much smaller than it actually is (Australian spacial arrogance), and so allow myself rather less time than I really need. But I went to see the Kooks with a friend of mine who is incredibly punctual, so I made it to the venue in time to see not one but both of the supporting acts. Which, in hindsight, was a very happy coincidence because the first support act was Scoundrels, a four piece indie/blues outfit who turned out to play the best live show I've seen all year.

We were so impressed by their performance at the Kooks that my friend and I went home and immediately bought tickets to their next London show. But come Saturday I was beginning to regret the decision. Having worked seven days a week for the past fortnight I got to the club wrecked, starving, and starting to worry the band weren't going to be as good as I seemed to remember. I could not have been more wrong; they were so much better than I'd thought. They play this fun, exciting blend of Brit-pop and southern zydeco that in words sounds ridiculous but in reality sounds phenomenal. Hearing a bunch of English boys playing the kind of deep south blues usually associated with older black men with harmonicas is something of an unexpected surprise, but by no means an unwelcome one.
Admittedly I was brought up on a steady diet of zydeco care of my mother (who once even took me to a blues fest to see her favourite zydeco band. I was the 12-year-old who danced like a crazy person in front of the stage and got to chat with the lead singer. I'm beginning to think my mum brought me up to be either really cool or a groupie), so I'm possibly predisposed to love this kind of music. After all it does remind me of my heady glory days, before I became an awkward teenager who bopped carefully at the back in a way painstakingly calculated to keep me out of the spotlight.

But putting to one side for a moment my own weakness for the siren call of the blues, this band are still mind blowing. They play with enjoyment and talent that conjured images of jamming for hours in garages soundproofed with egg cartons on lazy, rainy English afternoons. And they were charismatic. I swear, show me some guy with a guitar and I'll show you my "whatever, my brother's in a band" face; show me some guy with a guitar and charisma and I'm done for. The music is energetic and cheeky, the lyrics occasionally wistful but mostly tongue-in-cheek. There are honestly no words to describe how much I enjoyed this band. Which is why I usually don't try. I just end up sounding like an over-excited fangirl. Or my 12-year-old self.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Moving out

The past few weeks I've been in such a state. I finish my Au Pair job on the 17th of December, and with it goes not only my primary source of income, but also my home. And with the local and global economy rushing headlong into chaos, the job market isn't exactly thriving. So up until a few days ago my prospects were looking fairly dire.

Naturally I managed to get a job without too much hassle (it was always going to be one or the other). The company that hired me provides staffing for high profile, high end events. It's not exactly guaranteed full-time work - in fact they're advising already that January is a lean month - but it's a job nonetheless.

But if the job market is tough then the housing market is out and out war.

I must have looked at a dozen houses in the last fortnight. Of those, two were nice, and the rest had me genuinely worried that I might be sold into the white slave trade. I had always thought that shows like East Enders and The Bill portrayed only the scummiest aspects of London life. As it turns out, it doesn't matter how nice the surrounding areas are; if you live on an estate in London, the chances of you getting stabbed over £20 rise exponentially. I saw flats with no living area; a room with three doors and a curtain; and in the worst case was offered a place in a one bedroom flat sharing with an overweight middle aged man with a ponytail. I don't mean to be judgemental, but there are some things you should be obliged to mention on a room advertisement. And the going rate for a room is £150 a week.

I was beginning to think my top two options were death by exposure or being shanked on an under lit stairwell when I went to look at a room in Highgate, and found myself in flat search utopia. The woman I spoke to (also named Shannon) lives there with her adult daughter and one other lodger, a Spanish girl who's moving back home after Christmas. I was determined not to lodge with a family, but she made it clear I would be treated as a flatmate. Honestly though, even if she hadn't I probably would have offered her my firstborn for the lease. The flat is beautiful. It's in North London, flanked on two sides by Camden and Hampstead Heath (famously the home of Helena Bonham-Carter and Tim Burton amongst others). It has high ceilings and a private garden, and night buses to every corner of town. The next door neighbours are rich young bankers (single, too, according to my new landlord), and the area is practically overrun by people in the arts and media industries.

Afterwards I went home and decided that if I didn't get the lease on that flat I would give up and become a drifter, hitchhiking my way to the Med so I could sleep on the streets in relative winter warmth.

I picked up my set of keys today.

But wait, there's more. As if I needed any further incentive, I also found out the mother and daughter who own the flat are, from February next year, going to be spending much of there time in America. For weeks and months at a time they'll be gone, leaving me all on my own. Which means, to all intents and purposes, that for £400 a month (all inclusive) I just rented myself an entire house.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Endings

Autumn is a wonderful time to be melancholy. Not truly sad, per se. More...wistful. A languid, enjoyable heartache. The falling leaves; the crisp, grey skies; the definite chill that permeates the air - these things are all geared towards thoughts of endings. Autumn is the final, beautiful hurrah before the deadpan black-and-white colour palette of winter. So it seems only fitting that this should be the time of year when my own safe little London life should begin to fall apart too.

I have known from the moment I took this job that it would end mid-December. But in January, December was a year away. And in June, December was half a year away. And even in October it seemed like an age before things like Christmas and snow and unemployment would come about. And now I suddenly have one month  - 30 days and counting - before I have no job and no home. Oh. And a brother flying in for 2 weeks expecting at the very least a floor space to sleep on.

I've been fairly blase about my encroaching destitution. But my blithe "I'm not worried. Things always work out well for me" is beginning to sound mildly insincere, even to my own ears (and before you start thinking how irresponsible it is to just sit back and hope for the best, let me remind you - it HAS all worked out thus far, and with painfully little effort on my part. So my assurance up to this point hasn't been cavalier. It's been honest).

I went for my first room inspection tonight. I inspected the house, the housemates inspected me. It was, in a word, unnerving. The house was populated by antipodes, which I'm not sure about (why come to England to live with Aussies, after all). But mostly I was shocked out of my comfort zone by the fact that I'm quite likely to actually be offered a room reasonably soon. Which means several things - not least of which being that I really, really need a new job - including my leaving my host family. Leaving my kids. And they're not making it any easier.

I have been considering moving out of the West, and heading North or East, for a change of scene. But when I told my kids that I was going to look at a house in the next suburb over, they immediately celebrated how close I would still be. And when I came home after my interview my host dad asked me "When are you moving out?"
and when I answered "Well I suppose it depends when I get offered somewhere to live", he replied
"But...what about us?"
No, please. Break my heart a little more why don't you.
Still, it does feel good to know they still want me around after having me invade their home for a full year.

On the other hand, I love winter. Plus spring is always there, lurking just beyond the horizon. And it's time for a change. It has been wonderful, really and truly wonderful, spending a year here with my kids and their parents. But I'm ready for something new. A challenge, and adventure, anything. I'll still see them, if they need a babysitter or I need a sneaky feed because I spent all my money on things other than food. I'll have less room, I suppose. But I'll have more freedom.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What is past is prologue

I doubt anyone would argue the fact that Germany is a fascinating place. The backdrop for the most heinous crimes of the 20th century, Germany bears more guilt than any other Western country. And yet it is amongst the most powerful nations in Europe, and one of the most important financial players on the world stage. It is basically holding the EU together by sheer force of will, despite having a deeply divided history. So to say I was excited to get over there is at best a mild understatement.

A friend of mine from Australia, Joshua Harris (whom I fortuitously ran into in Dublin), is studying in a small town in mid-Germany for the year and generously offered me the use of his couch. So, unlike many tourists, my trip didn't start in any of the usual places. After a slightly disastrous journey over the channel (missing my connecting flight in Frankfurt = bad. Having my flights realigned by the most courteous and helpful airline ever = good. If you get the chance to fly with a German airline, take it. They were amazing. And they gave me free chocolate) I arrived not in a major port of call, but in a tiny university town called Göttingen. This worked to my advantage in several ways. For one thing it meant I was greeted in Germany with the sentence "so, are you ready for some schnitzel?", which was almost enough to make my whole trip all by itself. For another it meant I was able to revive my own uni experiences. I'm pretty sure I spent at least 2/3rds of my time there in a state of happy inebriation. But most of all it gave me the chance to see some of Germany that had literally never been touched by the war. Thanks to a slightly bizarre agreement the Brits made sure their bombs didn't fall on Göttingen, and in return the big two in England were similarly unmolested. So Göttingen is this stunning half-timbered fairytale town that encapsulates all that is great about German history. Which is important. Given that most people visit Germany to see places like Berlin, Dresden, and Munich it is easy to forget there is so much more to the country than the past 80 odd years. 


One of my favourite things about Göttingen was the story behind this statue. The  Gänseliesel (Goose Girl) stands in the old town square, and is possibly the most-kissed little girl in the whole of Germany. Whenever a university student is presented with their doctorate, it is traditional for them to present  Gänseliesel with a bouquet of flowers and give her a kiss. I found that story unaccountably sweet. For me it kind of summed up the kind of place Göttingen is.

After three nights with Josh I gathered up my bag and my hangover and made my way to Berlin. A word on foreign languages: no matter what you think you know, you really don't. I went to Germany confident that I couldn't speak the language (knowing that Auf Wiedersehen means the same as so long, farewell and goodbye is about as complex as my German gets) but even if I'd come fully equipped with a litany of helpful phrases I still would have been utterly perplexed. So fast! So accented! Happily everyone seemed to speak English, and all the Germans I came into contact with were super helpful.

By the time I arrived in Berlin I was starving and exhausted, so imagine my dismay when my hostel told me they'd overbooked my room. Things turned around pretty quicksmart though. They upgraded me to a private room (with en suit! luxury!) for free, and I found a lovely little Italian restaurant just around the corner. It was run by actual Italians (I know because they spoke more Italian than German) who were so pleased by my joy at discovering they did take away orders that they sat me down and fed me bread until my pasta was done. And while usually being alone in a hostel room would strike me as counter-productive, having the shower and light switch all to myself came pretty close to paradise at the time.


Berlin proved just as brilliant as I'd come to hope. Parts of it, admittedly, are blighted by the Nazi history. The courtyard where they burnt the books, for example, is surrounded by beautiful buildings that stand as testament to the city's previously liberal history - a church (designed by Frederick the great), a library, a university. The Brandenburg Gate is inextricably linked now with the image of Hitler walking into the city as the new Chancellor. And the Holocaust memorial is just beyond sad.


But Berlin is also really impressive. The Brandenburg isn't lessened as a piece of architecture because of one event. The museums are brilliant (I saw part of the wall of Babylon, for crying out loud). And it's also quite beautiful.


This building is a stunning church that looks about 500 years old. Actually it was only built about 160 years ago, when the then-king decided he needed older looking buildings to make the city more impressive. It's times like these I remember why I think the fall of the monarchy was probably for the best.

When I was in high school I took modern history. History was - is - one of my absolute favourite subjects. If you sat me down and offered me the choice between seven days in the tropics or seven days with an in-depth analysis of the past 300-odd years I'd take the plane ticket for the sole purpose of using it as a bookmark. If you make even a passing comment on the politics of the cold war in casual conversation you can wave goodbye to any chance you had of getting a word in edgewise for at least the next hour. In short, I'm a little bit of a history nerd. So when I was asked by a couple of my academic kindred spirits' one lesson what moment in history I would attend if given the chance it might have seemed like an impossible choice. It wasn't. If I could have been at any moment in history, I would have been at the fall of the Berlin Wall.

To say the Berlin Wall captivates me doesn't even come close to explaining how I feel. I had expected the wall to be more...well, frightening really. It was the cause of so much suffering. But in the end it was just a wall, which is why it fell. On the 9th of November 1989 a bumbling press secretary precipitated the greatest event in decades by uttering words to the effect of "I believe...immediately" on live international television and radio. Hundreds of East Berliners, people who had been taken without warning from normality and thrown into a state of constant terror, who hadn't seen friends and loved ones for almost 30 years swarmed out of their houses and peacefully ensured the destruction of one of the most oppressive regimes of the century. And when they made it over to the other side they were greeted by West Berliners handing out beer. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

You say you want a revolution?

Last night I was watching Mary Poppins with my kids when it occurred to me that I had never actually been to St Paul's Cathedral. Seen it, yes, but only ever from a distance. In fact, I mused, that whole "old London" area - St Paul's, Cheapside, the Square Mile - remained as much of a mystery to me as it had been when I lived half way across the world. So I resolved then and there to set out the next day to go and see it, wondering vaguely if there might still be a homeless lady peddling her wares on the steps of the great cathedral. 

What I found wasn't feed the birds, exactly. But it wasn't far off.


The Occupy Wall Street movement has gained a lot of attention over the past few weeks. Much has been made of the grass roots protest in the media - some for, some scathingly against. But more importantly the message of the Occupiers - basically that corporate greed has gone too far - has reached others who, no matter their race, religion or creed, have embraced the ideals behind the movement and joined in solidarity to the cause, both across America and the world. Including, for the last two days, London.

I had been dimly aware that Londoners were forming their own Occupying force, but I'd not paid enough attention to realise they were congregating around St Paul's. So when I arrived earlier today I was caught unawares. Although upon reflection, St Paul's - an indisputable beacon on wealth and power - seems a good a place as any to "stand in solidarity with the global oppressed and...
call for an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression" (source: http://occupylondon.org.uk/).


I must admit, the reason I'd not paid too much attention to Occupy London is that I found the message of the movement a little trite coming from the (free NHS, readily available public housing, generally quite decent social security) mouths of the Brits. Because even though many of the social welfare schemes in Britain have been basically decimated by the governmental cut backs, compared with the situation in the US, the UK is living on easy street. Don't get me wrong: I am absolutely 100% for the Occupy Wall Street movement. What kind of bleeding heart lefty would I be if I didn't think all grass roots movements were utterly brilliant? And what kind of journalist would I be if I didn't get all hot and bothered by such an important socio-political event? I mean, thousands of hardworking, educated people putting aside all their differences to unite for a pertinent cause that effects all of them in ways simultaneously totally different and yet exactly the same? It's actually the stuff my wildest dreams are made of. But London just didn't seem like the kind of place such an event could happen with any kind of genuine clout.

I was wrong, though. Aside from the blatant agenda pushing (oh hi there, Marxist flyers from the communist- and socialist-party pushers), most of the people outside the cathedral seemed to believe they could honestly make their opinions, and the opinions of others like them, not only heard but matter on a global scale. And...I love that. It's real change, without spin or hidden malice. It's democracy. Even the clergymen who work at the cathedral were said to have supported the peaceful protest, personally asking police not to move anyone on. It was a Bob Dylan song in motion, complete with acoustic guitar and harmonica. It was a phenomenal feeling to be there, talking to people and not only allowing but willing them to challenge my preconceptions, even if only for a few hours. And really, what does it matter of the message in the UK is slightly different to the message in the US? What's important is that there is a message at all.



Saturday, September 10, 2011

Early September and the kids start school

Today my boss was talking to a customer about how underwhelming this summer has been when she said
"You know it's probably not true, but I always remember when we were kids the summer being really warm and sunny all the time." For the past few months my host parents have been periodically apologising to me for the poor weather of the last few months. There was a moment last weekend when people started using the phrase Indian Summer (over-optimistically, it turns out), but for the most part this summer has been fairly cool and grey. And I haven't minded one bit. Until now. When my boss said that I realised Australians are incredibly lucky. Because what for many people is only an idealised fragment of memory is an annual reality for us. My summers have all been hot and sunny; they've been spent lazing on the beach and wearing slightly stiff, salt-encrusted clothes; I've fought valiantly but ultimately vainly against sunburn for 20 years, and never fully recognised that this kind of summer is the stuff of daydreams for millions.

The thing is, I don't even like Australian summers. In fact, I spend most of my time sweaty and red, refusing to go into direct sunlight between the hours of 10am and 4pm and wishing desperately for winter. And I honestly believe when England does manage to turn on the sun that summer here is infinitely more enjoyable than the antipodean version. London summer means 26 degree heat, picnics and Pimms.


So why this rush of false nostalgia for a season I moved 12,000 miles away to escape? Well, for one thing I accidentally started listening to this song again, an event that coincided directly with the beginning of warmer weather back in Aus. I got the chance to wear shorts and a tee-shirt about once, and sundresses sans-stockings maybe three times in the past three months. So the influx of facebook statuses celebrating the changing weather has made me - loathe though I am to admit it - a little jealous. Plus the kids have gone back to school, and routine has returned, lending my life a degree of normality I haven't experienced in several weeks. And so until leaves start falling and bonfires start blazing, my day-to-day is in the doldrums, giving me plenty of time to think about what I'll be missing as I skip out on the Australian summer.

1) Bare legs. Complain though I might about the need to shave on a bi-daily basis, it is really nice to walk around with nothing on below the mid-thigh region. I swear, I didn't think it was possible for my skin to become paler, but after 9 months of almost constant coverage my legs are practically transparent.

2) Beer. I don't understand. The British are a technologically advanced, reasonably civilised society (if you ignore Essex). So why, Why, WHY haven't they mastered beverage refrigeration? Pints might trump schooners and the Brits might do pubs better than any other country in the world, but drinking lukewarm beer can't hold a candle to a cold one fresh from an esky after a long hot summer's day.

3) The beach. This isn't restricted to summer, because I love the beach all the time. But I will miss jumping out of bed, racing to the sea and swimming for a blissful half hour before the beach becomes overrun by tourists and UV rays. Not to mention the brilliance that comes of combining the beach with the aforementioned chilled long-neck.

4) The sun. London might not be far north enough to experience 24 hours darkness, but it's close enough. The sun rises late, sets by 4pm, and spends most of the intervening hours cowering behind heavy cloud cover. It's enough to give a person SAD. And I don't even like the sun.

5) Storms. Summer storms are brilliant. So wild, so refreshing, so satisfyingly brief and brutal. The weather here is so weak-willed in comparison.

6) Fresh fruit. Oooooooh god mangoes. What I wouldn't give.

In reality I doubt I'll miss much of anything in two months, when everyone in the southern hemisphere is complaining of 40 degree heat and I'm warm and cosy up here in the north, with my big winter jacket and underfloor heating to keep out the chill of the English winter. But if anyone wants to send me a copy of the latest Hottest 100 in January to remind me what I'm missing out on, then I wont mind enduring a little jealousy. But only a little.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ou est la Eiffel Tower?

I almost never made it to Paris.

Tired and not a little hungover I committed the cardinal sin of travellers: I left home without my passport. Honestly, how can you leave for a foreign country and forget the one thing that guarantees you'll make it across the border? It boggles the mind. So, after rushing home to collect it and being driven "Notting Hill" style back to the coach station by my host mum and kids I had managed to miss my bus, and was staring straight down the line of a completely disastrous weekend. However my host mum convinced me that throwing money at the problem until I got what I wanted was the way to go, so I paid £179 for a train to Paris.

Admittedly £179 is a huge amount but, as Sian told me, if I didn't pay the money then in five years' time I sure wouldn't be £179 better off, and all I'd have would be the memories from the weekend I either went or almost went to Paris. And it was the best decision I could possibly have made. Oh Lord, how can I even begin to put into words how much I loved Paris?

I arrived on Friday night and, after having to call on my host family to save me for the second time that day by providing directions to my elusive hostel, I went for a stroll through Montmartre in search of a beer and some late-night Parisian watching. As I wandered I found myself surrounded by an ever-increasing number of sex shops, and just as I began to consider whether it was particularly safe for me to be walking in the red-light district alone at night I caught a glimpse of what looked like the arm of a windmill. Sure that there couldn't be more than one fluro windmill in Paris I quickened my step and found myself stumbling upon the Moulin Rouge. If nothing else had happened that whole weekend I think that moment alone would have warranted my train ticket. It was such a surreal moment - I could hardly believe this was actually my life. It was awesome.

The next day I jumped on a train and went out to Versailles. As it turns out, being young and living in the European Union has some perks, because instead of having to pay €27 to visit the Palace I only had to pay €8, which (irrationally) made me feel better about paying extra for the train.

Versailles is even more breathtaking in reality than in the photos I'd seen. There is really no way for the scope and beauty of the Palace to be conveyed in celluloid. It is phenomenal. The gardens are immaculate, replete with dozens of fountains and statues hidden within a giant hedge maze before morphing into literally miles of well-kept parkland, all of which leads you to both the Grand and Petit Trianon. Of all the places within Versailles, the Petite Trianon is most irrevocably linked to Marie-Antoinette. The area was gifted to her by Louis XVI, and it is the only part of Versailles ever to be seriously marked by the personal tastes of a single Queen.

The inside of the Palace is somehow even more amazing than the outside.



 But despite - or more likely because of - all the beauty Versailles made me feel slightly sickened. The place is enormous. The ceilings are so tall, and covered in massive murals. Every room is papered, carpeted and decorated to the nines. The furniture is priceless. And everything - EVERYTHING - is gilded. There is so much gold in that place that I don't even know what. The French revolution was admittedly a bloodbath, and a mostly ineffectual bloodbath at that. But if I had been a starving Frenchman in the 18th century and I'd seen Versailles I would have kicked off too. The ruling class just had too much. And although Versailles is so close to the centre of Paris, it is so easy to forget there's anything at all outside those big gold gates. It's like a world of it's own, where it probably seemed ok to spend all your money on clothes and food and parties, and where "let them eat cake" would have been a perfectly reasonable answer (whether or not she actually said that). But seeing Versailles I completely understood why the masses were baying for blood.

That evening I went back to my hostel and met Angele, a French-Canadian girl who was staying in the same room as me for the weekend. She asked if I'd like to come with her on a pub crawl and naturally I said yes. At the Metro station we met up with three other people from the hostel who were heading to the same place, so we all made our way into the city centre together. When we arrived at the supposed first pub there was no sign of the group we were looking for, so Angele used her super handy French skills to ask at the bar. As it turned out the pub crawl was totally bogus. But, not to waste an evening, we all went to the supermarket and bought bread, cheese and wine, and headed for the Eiffel Tower. While searching for a corkscrew we made friends with two Texan girls, and the seven of us sat under the Tower and had a quintessential French wine picnic, before heading back to Montmartre.

The hostel I was staying at had a 2am curfew, which was really unfortunate because by 3am the group had become fragmented, and I found myself cold and exhausted wandering around the streets of Paris alone when some guy came up and started talking to me in French. I managed to conjure up enough high school French to say "Je ne parle pas Fracais", at which point he switched to English before kissing me. I wasn't sure if I was totally ok with this turn of events, but I was too tired to fight it, so I just went with the flow until he asked if I wanted to come home with him. To the 14th arrondissement. Montmartre is in the 18th arrondissement, and there was no way I was going all the way to the 14th, so I turned him down. He seemed unfazed by my refusal and just led me into a side street instead, where he started taking off his clothes and trying to convince me to have sex with him there. Which I didn't. Even in Europe I feel there should be some lines I don't blithely wander across, and having sex with a stranger in a Parisian alley seemed like a pretty good place to stop.

Eventually I made it back to the hostel, and after about 4 hours sleep I went out into the city again. I don't think I could have had a more touristy day if I'd tried. And believe me, I did try. First up I climbed the Eiffel Tower. And I mean climbed. There was no way I was taking the damn lift.



Then I walked across the Seine to the Arc de Triomphe, which I also climbed.



And then I took a walk down a busy street, and realised I was hungry. Since I was on such a well-known French street I decided to have the most well-known French dish I could find. For the record: escargot are DELICIOUS! Ooooh I loved them.

Finally I went to the Louvre. I had hoped to visit Notre Dame afterwards, but I'd underestimated how much time I would spend at the Louvre. I wandered through the whole museum, saving it's most famous room for last. When I did finally make it to the Mona Lisa I was... well. I had heard people complain that she was too small, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a normal, portrait sized painting in front of me. But while I understand the need to protect such an important artwork, I feel like the Mona Lisa is protected to the point of detriment. It's hard to really see the painting from a foot away and through such a thick pane of glass. Still, I can now say I've seen what is possibly the most famous portrait in the world, so that's something.

On Monday I woke up early and walked around the corner to the Sacre Coeur before checking out of my hostel. Then I bought some more bread and cheese and had a picnic by Montmartre cemetery. Which might seem like a morbid place to eat my final meal in France, but it's actually a really beautiful place. And it's where a bunch of famous French people are buried, soI was in good company.

I was really very sad to leave Paris. It's easily one of my favourite cities, and I didn't even come close to doing everything I wanted to. I can't wait to go back.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How'd you like them apples?

This post was inspired by apples.


Which is strange. Apples are great, don't get me wrong. But they're hardly an inspiring fruit (actually, is any fruit particularly inspiring? I don't know. Maybe the dragon fruit.). Anyway, apples are available all year round from any supermarket, so they aren't something that usually fires my imagination.

I'm writing this from my backyard, staring right at two bountiful apple trees, which may give some indication as to why I'm so preoccupied with an otherwise quotidian fruit. But really it's not the apples themselves that are getting me all whimsical. Mostly it's the fact that I've been overseas for almost nine months and I'm just really really in love with England right now (seriously, there's a squirrel on the fence directly behind me right now. And I'm sitting in the sun without doing irreparable skin damage. This is paradise).

For one thing, the apples (I swear I'm almost done talking about them) are literally falling off the trees, meaning it's almost harvest time. And harvest time means it's almost Autumn! The thing is, I've never really been too hung up on Autumn. I do love the sweet reprieve it offers from the blistering heat of an Australian summer, but aside from that it's really just an unremarkable lead up to my favourite season (I don't care what anyone says, winter is brilliant). UNTIL NOW! This year Autumn mean piles and piles of fallen russet leaves; the return of scarves and hats and coats; Guy Fawkes day and Bonfire night; as well as still being the lead up to winter. And this year winter doesn't just mean cold, it also means (for me at least) Christmas!

Admittedly I am getting a little ahead of myself. But I've been working full time this week because the kids are on school holidays, and I swear I have regressed about ten years in the past five days.

I was a little concerned about having the kids all the time for two weeks. I didn't think I'd be able to find things to do with them every single day But I have had SO MUCH fun! I've been on water slides, I've been to imaginary day spas, I even built a fort.


It's such a cliche (then again, this whole post has been a mishy-mushy barrage of sappy platitudes, so what's new) but I've picked up so much of their enthusiasm For one thing, spending so much time with children has reinvigorated the drive I had to get out and SEE things that was so strong when I first arrived, but has faded - just a little - since I started feeling so at home here. Which is why this afternoon I got home from work and booked a spur of the moment trip to Paris for next weekend (YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAY!). But, probably more importantly, being with the kids has resurrected my fervor for simple, day-to-day things. Like pretending the space under the bed is a top secret cave. And, you know. Apples. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two Weeks

Gosh, it's been a while. I would be completely unsurprised if any of you suspected I was dead. There were moments I thought the same thing. I wasn't, though. Mostly I was just drunk (ha. I'm all class).

I spent my last day in Dublin wandering around the city, seeing as many of the sights (or the free ones anyway) as I could. At around 4:30-ish I was pretty well spent, so I went back to my hostel and checked my facebook. You know, people are so ready to belittle social networks, believing them to replace actual interpersonal contact. But, thanks to my generation's inability to stay disconnected and a decent amount of good luck, when I went on one of the first things I saw was Joshua Harris' status proclaiming the fact he was in Dublin.
I met Joshua Harris when we were both back in Australia through my uni friend Courtney, and he's currently spending the year studying at a German university. He was funny and good value and we got on well, so when I saw that we were in the same city I immediately asked him if he wanted to meet up.
We went and grabbed a drink or two and I had dinner with his lovely family who were over in Europe to visit him and getting a little sight seeing done in the process. As it turned out we were on the same ferry out of Ireland the next morning, so we met up again around 8 the next morning, went to the on-ferry bar and treated ourselves to another pint before whiling away the trip playing card games (of both the alcoholic and - once the beer ran out - non-alcoholic persuasion).
It was wonderful seeing Josh. Although one of the best things about travelling is meeting new people, it's always refreshing to spend some time with someone with whom you already have context.
On Friday afternoon I arrived in a town in North Wales that has always played a big part in my life, despite my never having been there. Thirty-odd years ago my Mum went travelling and ended up living and working in a place called Glan Gwna (pronounced "Goona" for those of you not familiar with the Welsh fondness for consonants) just outside of Caenarfon ("Carnarvon"). My whole life I've heard stories of the time she spent there, and our house is decorated with drawings of the Black Boy pub, Caenarfon Castle and various objects bearing the symbol of the Welsh Dragon. And, of course, there were Anna and Susan. Anna had been one of mum's closest friends in Wales, and Susan is her sister.
Although mum only actually met Susan once while living in Caenarfon (at the time Susan was busy being married to the love of her life - a man who would later die in a completely tragic and unnecessary military plane crash in the Falklands and leave Susan sad for the rest of her life) they had later formed a good long-distance friendship. It was this relationship I called upon when booking my trip, and Susan was lovely enough to take me in for a weekend while I had the most incredibly surreal experience of actually visiting the places that had, until now, been the places of my imagination.
My first night in Caenarfon Susan took me out to dinner and showed me around the castle, telling me about the carriage that had plunged into the waters out the front and is said to still haunt the docklands (Britain is full of thousands of small ghost stories - I find them fascinating), before taking me for a pint at The Black Boy pub. The Black Boy was my mum's usual establishment in her heady Welsh youth, and it - much like Welsh wild-child Anna - has barely changed at all in the interim (unlike almost everything else).

I did the castle the next morning. Wow. Honestly, it's easy to be blase about castles in Britain, what with there being one in pretty much every other town. But Caenarfon castle was just breathtaking. According to the legend it was built as one of three castles demanded as a wedding present by a Welsh Princess before her marriage to a far-flung Lord. It reminded me of nothing more than the castle of Cair Paravel in the Narnia books. I lost two hours there without even realising, and had to rush out in time to go out to Mount Snowdon, just outside the town in the countryside.


I often think of Wales as the forgotten country of Britain, but it is an incredibly impressive country. The 
 country is equal parts bleak and beautiful, and it's plain to see why the Welsh are so proud of their myths and legends - when you're staring into a black water lake surrounded by towering slate walls, they're so easy to believe.

I left Wales for Scotland on Sunday afternoon, stepping aboard my train with packed lunch in hand and feeling for al the world like a character from a traditional English story on her way to boarding school. Though happily for me there was no such institution waiting for me at the other end.

I went to Glasgow first, thinking of staying there for a few days with "family" before heading off to Edinburgh to catch a day or two of the Fringe Festival. In Glasgow I stayed with my step-uncle's brother and his family (my familial connections can be described as convoluted at best), and from the first night I just kind of fell in with his nieces and their social activities. Of course I'd been mildly concerned about initial akwardness - there being some kind of expectation that we would hang out and be nice to each other OR ELSE - but it ended up being delieriously easy. They made almost nothing of the fact I was a stranger, and I spent the next five nights casually drinking. And drinking. And drinking some more. They're not lying when they say Scots drink.

If anyone was to ask me what Scotland was like I would likely give them a completely false impression. Not only did I spend most of my time seeing the country out of the bottom of a bottle, on my first day in the city I came face to face with this:


BAGPIPERS! IN KILTS! Casual Scottish. And as if that wasn't perfect enough, I then saw a poster advertising this band:


Possibly the best band name EVAR. Seriously, I almost wanted to find out when and where they were playing just so later I could drop into casual conversation anecdotes about that time I saw the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Apparently it was only happening because there was a international piping championship that weekend. But I'd like to think these things happen all the time.

Also while I was in Glasgow I tried venison. And saw the TARDIS.


Anyway, I woke up on Friday morning and realised I had to be in Edinburgh that night to catch the overnight coach to London for work the next day (NB: NEVER. I slept for about 2 hours and had a strange man fall asleep on my shoulder. Ick). So I finally made my way across, and caught about 10 hours of the festival. Edinburgh was stuuuunning, and part of me wishes I'd gone there for longer (as planned. Ooops). But really I don't mind at all. It's so easy for me to get back up there, and the Festival will be on again next year.

And now I'm home again. And despite the rioting and my hellish 8-hour shift mere hours after dragging myself off the coach, it was good to be home. And even better when I got back from work and was greeted by the ecstatic screams of my kids, who spent the rest of the night falling all over themselves to tell me about their holiday, fighting who would sit next to me while we watched a family movie, and generally letting me know they missed me. It was a good two weeks.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Emerald Isle

So, Ireland. I woke up on Tuesday morning in time for the free breakfast, and decided I'd take advantage of the free walking tour advertised by the hostel. Which, as it turned out, was the best decision ever.

There were only two other people from my hostel who turned up for the tour, a Russian girl who lives in Germany named Natalie, and another Aussie, Adie. I always have kind of mixed feelings about meeting other Australians on my travels. I actively left a country full of them, so it seems counter-productive to start making friends with them all the way over the other side of the world. Still it's hard not to like someone who got "Hakuna matata" tattooed on their back in the red light district in Amsterdam.

The tour itself was incredible. It went for around 3.5 hours, and covered something like 11,000 years of Irish history. Plus the guy who was leading our tour group was such a good story teller that even if I didn't have a keen interest in history already the tour would still have peaked my interest.

My favourite anecdote from the tour was the story of Father Pat Noise, a priest who has a plaque dedicated to him on Dublin's main bridge. According to the story Father Pat was a fairly mysterious character, involved with gangsters and lowlifes, who's own life came to a startling end when his horse drawn carriage plunged into the river Liffey. His body, however, was never found. The plot, as they say, thickens.
Eventually a couple of people at the council offices started wondering who exactly Father Pat was. They inquired at the local churches, and found nothing, went to the Vatican, who had never heard of him, and raked through the census records without finding hide nor hair of a Father Patrick Noise. As it turns out, the reason nobody had heard of Pat Noise is because he never existed. The plaque was put up by a couple of unidentified pranksters. So the council took the plaque down, but when they did, tens of Dubliners went and tossed flowers into the river as a tribute to the memory of Father Pat, resulting in the plaque being reinstated.

After the tour Natalie, Adie and I agreed to meet up later in the evening for the hostel pub crawl. Which was hilarious. Adie and I bonded over each doing two shots of vodka and one of (awful) Irish whiskey in the space of about 30 seconds. I also tried Guinness, both on it's own and with coke. Which I know sounds disgusting, but was actually not bad at all. Apparently it's a German thing. I'm not entirely sure how many of the pubs on the itinerary I made it to, but at the second pub there was a violinist (fiddler?) and a guitarist playing traditional Irish songs, and it was just so exactly what I had imagined going out in Ireland to be like. However my participation in the crawl was cut short when I started chatting to, kissing and going home with (all in record time) an American boy I met. He's in the Navy and comes from the Valley in California, and even though I resisted the temptation to "hello sailor" him, I couldn't help but quote "Where are you, Kuwait?" "Is that in the valley?" and send myself into paroxysms of laughter because I'm SO FUNNY.

Even though hostels are generally great and interesting places, they're not really conducive to certain nocturnal activities. Luckily, his room only had one other guest. Awkwardly it was his sister. I have to admit, though, she was lovely, and after making idle chit chat for a bit she had the amazing good grace to go out for a pint. Honestly, if my brother came home late at night with some girl he'd picked up in a bar and none too honourable intentions I wouldn't want to hang about either, but I was still grateful.

This morning after finally extracting myself from my temporary bed I decided to get out of the city. Isabel had mentioned a seaside town near Dublin that she and her friends would go to when she was living here, and so I jumped on a train and spent the day sitting on the shore eating fish and chips, wandering along the cliffs and marvelling at the fact that I'm in Ireland, where there are Irish people living Irish lives and have dozens of Irish babies as per Monty Python's Meaning Of Life.

Monday, August 1, 2011

On The Road

The past five days have seemed like an age. My weekend basically started on Thursday night when my friends and I went out to The Elk to celebrate (mourn?) Tinja's leaving by consuming our collective body weight in £3 mojitos.

After struggling through both a healthy dose of post-tequila self hated and a veritable mountain of ironing on Friday I went out again, this time with a different Finnish. Happily Iina is back in London, on a permanent basis. I had thought the return of one Finnish friend would balance out the departure of the other, but on Saturday as I was walking home from my (new) second job, with 2 hours sleep under my belt and plans to spend my Saturday night consuming gin-jelly with Isabel I thought casually "we should ask Tinja to come".

I think Tinja leaving is the saddest thing to have happened to me since I've been here. I hardly knew Elena when she left, and Iina was always going to come back, but I don't actually know when (or if) I'll see Tinja again.

On Sunday I was back at work and by 5pm I was more than happy to just pack my bags and go to sleep, in anticipation of my whirlwind 12 day tour of the UK.

Which brings me to Ireland. Because this morning I got on a train, and now I'm in another country. Just saying that sentence is enough to reassure myself that nothing - not a career, not being with my friends and family, nothing - would be worth missing this. I booked a hostel ahead of time, because it seemed like the sensible and efficient thing to do. However my talents apparently do not encompass efficiency or sensibility, because I got off the ferry in Dublin with no Euros, no address, and no real idea of what I was doing.

Eventually I got into a taxi with a driver who agreed to let me pay him in pounds and told him my predicament. He told me he'd never heard of the hostel I needed, and his speedy recon mission amongst his fellow drivers proved equally fruitless. Instead he drove me to a hostel he did know of, where I dumped my stuff for the evening and went of in search for my planned hostel. And also food.

The latter was easy, and I had a lovely picnic on the banks of the river that runs through the city. The former, however, alluded me. I looked up the place on the website, marked it on the free map I'd picked up at the taxi driver's hostel, and set off. But after an hour of trekking through Dublin I was still no closer to finding my destination. In fact I was beginning to think the place didn't exist at all (a fear by no means alleviated by the constant engaged tone on their phone).

While I ate dinner, though, I figured maybe this was a fortuitous turn of events. After all, being dropped off by a friendly taxi driver into the waiting arms of an unbooked hostel room (and incredibly attractive receptionist) seemed like too perfect a situation to walk away from, So I threw caution to the wind and cancelled my initial booking, choosing instead to stay where I had been led (by FATE).

I feel this is the best possible beginning to my trip.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wanderlust, and Anarchy in the UK

Things have really slowed down here. Most of my friends are going back to their various countries of origin for good, and the general atmosphere is one of wrapping up. Which is fine, except that I have a tendency to develop wanderlust when I get too bored. It would happen at semi-regular intervals when I was living in Bathurst for uni and I would sit at my computer for hours, facebook stalking anyone on my friends list who happened to be overseas at the time or torturing myself by compiling a photo file of places I would rather be.

Of course London was always one of the places I dreamt of being, but I've been here so long now that I feel very much at home here. I oscillate wildly between seeking out a feeling of home wherever I am and running desperately away from it. When times are good I love being at home here. But at the moment I feel like my life is a constant battle against the drudgery of domesticity. It doesn't help that I recently picked up a second job, so now my weekends have been cut in half by yet more responsibility. When do I have the time to be young?!? Never, it would seem.

Not really. I'm just feeling sorry for myself. And the extra money will come in super handy when it comes time to leave the (relative) safety of London for the big wide world. Besides, it's good to know my shop girl skills are still razor sharp. And this time my dreams of getting up one morning and going to another country are palpably achievable. In fact I've got two weeks of holidays at the start of August, when I'll be going to Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Salvation is, both metaphorically and literally, just beyond the horizon.

In other news...

We need to talk about Rupert.

The collapse of News International's notorious tabloid News Of The World is far and away the most exciting news event to happen to Britain in quite some time, not least because finally freedom of the press is more than an ironic Murdoch family in-joke. 

Watching Murdoch Senior squirm alongside his son and recently deposed surrogate daughter was schadenfreude personified. The Murdochs are basically the media mafia, and Rupert's brutal and narrow minded opinions have permeated both British and (to a somewhat lesser extent) multitudinous international media outlets to a ludicrous extent. Given the power he wields over both Parliament and the police force I'm almost surprised he hasn't just wandered into Buckingham Palace and asked Lizzy to hand over the crown and be done with the whole charade.

It would be wonderful to think NOTW's demise could mark the start of a media revolution that would see the Murdoch's reign if not ended then at least scaled back. God knows it's warranted. NOTW and by association News International has been exposed as a cesspool of lies and moral decrepitude, where truly despicable and harmful things took place. And there are more than enough people who would gladly see the Murdoch's toppled. For one thing, the public have been gifted with a rare awareness of the inner workings of a corrupt regime, and the actions of a well placed, power hungry few have resulted in joblessness for many blameless employees.

Not to mention the governmental repercussions. To say David Cameron's position is precarious would be a massive understatement. In fact, Ladbrokes and Paddypower have 4/1 odds that Cameron will go.

But given that The Sun On Sunday is already a thing, chances are low that any real, lasting change will be affected within the British media. And the public protests have already taken on a farcical element (search #piegate if you don't believe me).

Still, I live in hope. Really it isn't the size of the change that matters, it's the action that produces it. And, if nothing else, the events of the past few weeks will be a great thing to have lived through.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hindsight is 20/20

If this was a book instead of a blog I would have given this post the secondary title of "...or, An Apology". Because, Mum, I'm so freaking sorry.

This is my seventh month in this job now, and to celebrate my successfully passing the half way point my host parents jetted off to Valencia, leaving me to look after the kids full time for an entire weekend. And thanks to a well-timed strike followed by a student-free day, I had the boy for 4 days and the girl for 2.

Luckily this isn't going to become a regular occurrence. But with the Summer holidays looming I will inevitably be spending a lot more time alone with the children.

Let me just clarify that my kids are great. They're a sweet, friendly, helpful pair who love each other and give me next to no trouble at all. And they completely outdid themselves this weekend. But those 48 hours still made me seriously question whether I really want children. And I don't mean whether I want them anytime soon (for the record, the answer to that has always been a great, resounding "no"), but whether I actually want them ever. Of course looking after your own children would be a significantly more rewarding experience than looking after someone else's (I'm assuming, anyway). But still.

For one thing, it's boring. I wasn't expecting there to be so many dead hours. Time consuming? Sure. Expensive? Of course. But boring? I'd envisioned constant activity and eventual exhaustion. Not so much, as it turns out.

For example: On the Saturday we went to a school fete, and I finally understood why my Mum always volunteered to be involved. Because I managed to make the stalls and lunch last around an hour (a stretch, believe me. I must have visited the book stall at least 5 times), before retiring to a shady hill with a cup of Pimms and my ipod for the next 3 hours.

There was also a strange frustration/guilt combo, which really came into play on the Sunday. I took them to the movies (in case you're wondering, Kung-Fu Panda 2 - not too bad) (or should that be not 2 bad?! Not really, no). And when we got home all they wanted to do was watch TV or play video games. Their apathy towards any other suggestions was so irritating I knew I'd cave in the end, but I felt terrible for allowing them to be so lazy.

But none of that compared to how nasty they could be. The boy isn't so bad - occasionally he'll say something mildly hurtful by accident, mostly because he doesn't have any real social graces yet. But the girl, soon to be ten and just discovering the joys of adolescence, can be a right little bitch. The worst part is that they're usually so sweet and genuine and nice you can't help but like them, and then they'll turn around and go completely the opposite way, leaving you feeling strangely awful. I'm not sure why - why should I care about the opinions of any nine year old, let alone one who's only known me for half a year? But dammit, she knows the right buttons to press. Luckily for me she likes me enough and I'm close enough in age to her that I can remember how I was at that age, and therefore can quite easily guilt her into feeling bad and being nice again (definitely a responsible child care strategy).

But that's what I want to apologise for really. I turned out ok in the end, as I'm sure my 9-year-old will too. But I remember being just as precocious, dismissive and downright mean when I was her age.

So. Mum, I'm really very sorry. I'll give you a couple of Grandkids to make up for it. Well, probably. Well...maybe.

Also, if anyone has any suggestions for keeping two children under 10 entertained for 2 months, I'd be more than happy to hear them.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Laura In London


On Monday I received a phone call I had been waiting seven months for. Laura was in London.

Laura and I went to school together, but didn't really spend a lot of time hanging out until last year, when we discovered a mutual love of day drinking. And although inappropriate alcohol consumption seems a poor grounding for any kind of relationship I now consider Laura one of my closest friends, thanks primarily to the $3 drinks at Bar Century and an excess of free time. I mean, we do actually have a lot in common so that probably helped. But mostly it was the drinking.

So that's what we did.

It was incredible to see her again. She was staying in Camden, so on Wednesday I took half a day off work and went up there to meet her. Isabel came too, making Laura the one person to have infiltrated each and every one of my friendship groups. We spent the first part of the day trawling the markets, but once Isabel had to leave we got down to business.



I knew seeing Laura would be a slightly bittersweet occasion. She is basically the embodiment of everything I left behind, and seeing an old friend is so different from seeing the various family members who have come over while I've been here. Inevitably we talked about the various people we knew back home and reminisced about the past, but over the several hours we spent together we also spoke a lot about our future plans. And I have to admit it was reassuring. When Laura arrived I was super excited, but also slightly nervous. It's been so long since I've seen any of my Australian friends that I wasn't sure how things might have changed.


Once the pubs had closed and we'd run out of vodka I decided it was time to go home. And despite reassurances of her return in August ("there are heaps of times even at home when we wouldn't see each other for a month") leaving was difficult.

But not as difficult as I'd anticipated. Leaving Australia was the hardest thing I've ever done. I remember sitting on the plane, feeling totally along and realising that two and a half years is a really long time. I had no friends, no safety net and no way of knowing whether I was making a huge mistake, so I wanted to cling to everything I was leaving behind. Now all those concerns have become non-issues. London feels like home now too, and the friendships I've made here are no less valid just because they're newer. And, most importantly, I don't want to go home. Seeing Laura made me very happy, and August will be a blast, but it didn't make me miss home at all. If anything it made me feel more at home here. Besides, I'm only ever a (painfully long) plane ride away.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In the summer time

June, by and large, has been a horrid month in London, weather-wise at least. Despite it being the first month of summer there has been little sign of the blue skies and warm days that mark the season back home. So it came as no surprise to me when I looked outside on Saturday morning to see gloomy rain clouds looking back. Nevertheless I put on a summer dress and headed in to Hyde Park to celebrate the longest day of the year. And lo and behold, mere hours later London provided a minor miracle: Swedish  Midsummer marked the nicest summer day yet.



Midsummer not really being a big thing (or a thing at all) where I come from I had no idea what to expect. Turns out, in Sweden the mark the eternal sunshine by eating and drinking for as many hours as humanly possible. Presumably in Sweden this is for the full 24 hours, given the lack of night. 




Along with the incredible amounts of Swedish food and decidedly less Swedish drinks (mostly Pimms - possibly the most British of all alcohols) came flower garlands, children in traditional dress and - my favourite part of the day - dancing around the Maypole.


 By happy coincidence we shared the park with legions of Bon Jovi fans that evening, and as darkness finally began to fall hundreds of Midsummer celebrants were serenaded with thousands of die hard fans singing along to "Living On A Prayer".
If nothing else the contrast between the age-old Swedish festival and the more contemporary strains of 80's rock reminded me what an incredible place London is. Cultures that have almost nothing in common collide on an almost daily basis, and being caught in the middle is nothing if not unforgettable. Not to mention that living in such a culturally diverse city facilitates experiences that for me would be otherwise out of reach. I think an exchange I had with my Swedish friend Tess summed it up best.
Tess: When will you ever have the chance to celebrate Midsummer with Swedes again?
Me: Possibly next year?
Tess: Well that's another whole year away. Have another drink!

Glad Midsommer!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Get me to the Church on time

Yesterday I became one in a long and illustrious line of Aussies-in-London to partake in a tradition upheld since 1979. Like the good Australian girl I am, I spent my Sunday at The Church.



I first heard of The Church shortly before I left home at the end of last year. My mother is still in touch with the vast majority of her school friends, and it was at one of their Christmas parties that I learnt of the Church's existence. I was chatting with Mark, a pushing-fifty father of several, when he urged me to get to a Sunday service. The fact that this knowledge was passed down to me from a former wild child gives you some idea of how proud an antipodean tradition The Church is.

So I dragged myself out of bed at eight on Sunday morning, draped myself in a bed sheet and prepared myself for the worst (best?). Going to the Church requires a serious effort. For one thing, you have to catch the overground to get there (seeing the sky out of a train window is a sure sign you're going a long way away), and for another they only open for about four hours, after which they deposit you, drunk and disoriented, back out onto the street to make a public spectacle of yourself.

But dear God, was it ever worth it.


The hours I spent in the Church were the four most debauched hours I've had...well, since leaving Australia. The whole place is geared towards getting patrons as as drunk as humanly possible, as evidenced by the cheap booze and cheaper strippers. None of the usual societal norms seem to apply, as long as you have a drink in your hand and a vacant grin on your face. Not to mention I'd thought my toga party days had finished with my university degree. Apparently not.

I also got the chance to talk to some shearers from Wagga about Coolamon, the town I didn't think anyone actually knew about. It wasn't until I spent some time with Aussies again that I realised how true most of the stereotypes are (in the best possible way).

After the Church turfed us we trekked it all the was back into Shepherd's Bush to go to the Walkabout. By this time the conflict between the time my body thought it was and the time the rest of the world thought it was had begun to take it's toll, and after the Walkabout Tinja and I dragged our empty stomachs across to the closest pub for our first meal of the day. Unluckily for us they refused to serve ancient Greeks. Luckily, we both had regular clothes on hand, which we threw on in the middle of the street, impressing the bartender no end in the process.

After feeding we walked for a bit, trying to sober up before we went home to our respective employers. I now remember the reason why I like to sleep off a good binge. The transition from drunk to hungover is hell. When I finally stumbled back into my room around 10pm I was destroyed, and slept like a baby until 3.30 in the morning, when I woke up totally sober and totally not tired. So I watched Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle and reflected that any day that sees me singing "If you're happy and you know it" with a group of drunk strangers in the Maccas bathroom at 5pm is probably a good one.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Into the Woods


It's easy to get lost in London. When I'm here I almost forget that this isn't really representative of England as a whole. So it comes as a small shock every time I venture out into the countryside to see just how... English England really is.

Before I came here I watched more than my fair share of BBC dramas, but I always assumed the quaintness of the English country was overstated. It wasn't. All the pubs and cottages and well-dressed elderly people are right there, in villages barely two miles apart with names like Sweetshire and Comfortsford.



In the evening of my first day in the forest, the dog and I went for what was meant to be a casual stroll across the commons, an hour tops and home in time for supper. But the trees lured me in and before I knew it I'd done a Little Red Riding Hood on myself and gotten totally lost, forgetting that just because there are no creatures armed to kill in England doesn't mean wandering off the path into unfamiliar territory is a terribly clever idea. Two and a half hours later I found my way home, and the next day I decided the whole experience was charming (as opposed to just plain tiring) and repeated it in a different stretch of wood. 



On the plus side, the lack of people meant I could play all I liked with my self timer. And I saw a lot of deer. A walk in an English forest is so captivatingly different to walking through the Australian bush. It was almost enough to make me want to move out to the countryside one day. Almost.



Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Great expectations

Last week was half term for my Boy and Girl. They went sailing for the week, leaving me alone in their grandparent's house with the dog for the better part of the week. Come Thursday, however, I was home free. London beckoned, with her promises of hustle, bustle and the ubiquitous sound of sirens I'd grown accustomed to, and of which there was a conspicuous lack in the middle of an honest to God English forest. But instead of giving in to the siren call (both literal and metaphorical) of my adopted home I decided to jump on a train and see somewhere new. 


Given I was in the south already it made sense to stick below London, so I took the advice of my mothers both biological and host and went to Bath.

There is no denying Bath is a beautiful town. Nestled amongst gently rolling hills and practically drowning in history, it is little wonder this area captured and stimulated the imaginations of such literary notables as Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy. And anyone who knows me will attest to my love of history. So it is little wonder I was equally captivated by my surrounds.


The contrast between ancient and modern was especially profound here, where tourists pour through corridors snapping high resolution digital pictures of buildings and monuments that out date Jesus. While I was in the Roman Baths I found myself feeling simultaneously incredibly close to and removed from the people who lived or travelled here. In some ways I - with my mobile phone, ease of travel and own digital camera - was absolutely different from a people who made month- or year-long pilgrimages to this site to pay their respects to the gods or curse their neighbours for petty theft .


But I find when I'm close to history it is so much easier to remember those people were exactly that - real people. They lived and loved and hoped and feared and finally died. And it's also easy to remember when seeing first hand the comparative level of civilisation, despite their superstitions and brutal rituals, the Romans were a formidable and supremely advanced people.


As I sat, casually dangling my hands into a pool that was once part of the ultimate day spa and listened to commentary by Bill Bryson, I considered the expectations born of my own history. In many ways the trip to Bath was exactly what I had hoped travel would be like. I was alone, so I could make my own decisions about what to do, and when; I was staying in a hostel; when I stepped outside I was somewhere. The sun was shining, the town was beautiful, and there were buskers on every corner. But as I'd gone to sleep on the Thursday night (my first of two) I was concerned. From what I'd been told of my Mum's travels thirty-odd years ago, and my friend Laura's travels thirty-odd months ago, I had expected to walk into a hostel and pretty much walk straight out again into a pub. Despite knowing how stupid it was, I felt like I was doing something wrong.

I spent the next day being a tourist, touring the Baths and Cathedral, taking afternoon tea in the Pump room (where I had fresh clotted cream for the first time - Holy moley, it was something else), scouring the markets and dining, book in hand, by the river. In all an idyllic day. But I was still mildly perturbed. The stories I'd been told made it seem like Mum and Laura barely spent a moment without company.

Happily I went back to my room that night and made friends with two Swiss girls, with whom I went out and had a drink in a proper English pub.