Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Fun with family

Things were a looking a bit crap and then my cousin came to stay.

The flat is really too small for guests but as long as people don't mind the sofa, the bathroom-connected-to-the-bedroom, the stuffiness and small cockroaches, then all is well.

Oli was a perfect guest. We had a great weekend with him kicking off with an outdoor gig at The Rocks on Friday. The thunderstorm didn't deter us or the Potbelleez but we did get very soggy. The place was packed and a hive of creative activities what with the night markets going on too.

On Saturday we took him over to Darling Harbour and the Fish Market where Ric and he enjoyed platters of seafood. My stomach wasn't feeling up to fishy things by then. In fact, I'm just not getting in to fish at all yet. Tuna's ok, and I like snapper.

That evening we drank in the Opera Bar, met up with some of Oli's doctor friends and found ourselves listening to crap karaoke in a Chinese restaurant. Ric and I intended to go on the The Ivy which is a new uber cool club near Wynyard but I was still feeling too wiped out by my bug to go along. A shame.

On Sunday we caught the ferry over to Watson's Bay where we dined at the famous Doyles restaurant on the tiny beach front. The sun even came out for a while. I love the fact that even the fanciest, most stylish places to eat here have a laid-back, no nonsense feel. This one's definitely a winner and somewhere we'll have to take Ric's folks too.

It was such a lovely weekend, the prospect of work the next day was rather depressing.

Now Nicole has arrived and I feel guilty for being at work and not showing her round town. We've got lots of time to catch up when we go away next week though and it will probably take her a few days to shake off the jet lag anyway.

I don't think she's a fan of the cockroaches, or the sofa.

I am desperately trying to find an outfit for the Australian Chamber Orchestra dinner on Thursday. It's black tie but with 'a touch of Africa' - help! I'm not to fussed about going now but the tickets were $225 each and my boss has told me to go.

I really just want to see Ric in a tuxedo (he's borrowed one from a friend).

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Cranky Pants

All I seemed to do last week was cry and be snotty, fluey, stressed and overwhelmed by everything, or, in other words, nothing in particular. I honestly don't know why I've been this way - I mean, I only caught a chest infection. I can't blame Ric (although I do feel a bit of a computer widow of late and that I'm interrupting his flow of geekiness when I get in in the evenings). I can't blame work as that's a kind of stressful environment I thrive on. I can't even blame my hormones...err...hang on... maybe us girls can always blame those. Well whatever factor is to blame, I've felt like crap.

I have this constant feeling that I'm on the brink of change or something profoundly important and that all the choices I make here are finite but somehow out of my control. I have the strong sense that I am failing to live up to my dreams, whatever they may be. I waste a lot of time with OCD too though this is getting better. More and more I think it would be well worth pursuing some sort of Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) either here or when I get back to London next year.

Ric is being screwed about by agents but seems quite content working on his laptop from the flat.
He's building some cool games:

The weather here has been rubbish of late and I wonder when this place is going to warm up as promised!

Stockton fun

I've just returned from a very wet (and wild) weekend on Stockton Beach. Despite the forecast of rain and the onset of a sore throat and head cold on Saturday, I braved the elements and NSW rail and pitched up at Newcastle with Ric and Helen where we were kindly driven to the camp site by our friend's friend (one of many RAF engineers in the group), via a quick stop off at the bottleshop of course.

The beach, which is only accessible via a bumpy dirt track, is un-patrolled, long, wide and dotted with huge sand dunes, thus lending itself perfectly to quad-bikers and 4x4 drivers and all-weather campers like us.

We arrived to find the Hungi pit already being dug out, the shelter erected and yes, the rain drizzling down. But at least it wasn't cold.

One of the party had brought their 12 month old Labradoodle Charlie (see pictures) who was an adorable wool-bag who just wanted to run, dig holes, fetch things and lick everyone. Helen wasn't thrilled about his slobbery attention but I relished the canine love. Ric and I are always talking about getting a dog eventually and this cross-breed is rather special and, it seems, very popular over here.

After a few hours and with the aid of a boot-full of wood fire, the sand in the pit was hot enough to bury our dinner in so the two large and carefully wrapped foil parcels went in to the pit, were buried with sand and then covered with more burning wood where it was left to cook for the next four hours.

Meanwhile, the rain had mercifully abated, allowing us to put up the tents, crack open the beers and commence the games. We played Frisbee for a while (Charlie rather got in the way though) and then cricket on the top of the large sand ridge over looking our campsite. Forgetting that I was once quite a good batswoman, I played a few great hits notching up plenty of runs. It's hard work running in sand though and my thighs are throbbing today after all the balls I had to retrieve, oh, and after long jumping repeatedly off the edge of the dune!

The sunset was truly one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. All we could see for miles and miles was sky, rippled purple clouds, sand and the sea in the distant horizon which was dotted with almost spooky looking enormous cargo ships. The sky became variously red, pink, orange and then purple as the sun went down and every one of us watched in amazement as we were painted pink by its radiant glow.

The rain held off for the rest of the evening and we enjoyed great food (the chicken, pork and lamb all came out of the Hungi cooked to perfection, as did the pumpkin), games, music courtesy of Ric's new speakers and impeccable music collection, dancing and 10 litres of Very Fruity Port beside the camp fire which led to yet more frolics involving running up sand dunes with no clothes on.

Ric escaped that game by virtue of not wanting to stand up by that stage, but he somehow managed to roll in to the fire at about 1.30am at which point I decided it was time to drag him off to bed where we found Helen already curled up in the middle of our three man tent. We unrolled a few borrowed sleeping bags, huddled together and then passed out til 7am when nature called with great urgency and the rain drops started tapping furiously on our tent. In the five and a half hours sleep I had, I managed to strain my neck, wrist and left shoulder - or was that a result of yanking Ric out of the fire?

We dosed for a while longer listening to the patter on the plastic shell (how this reminded me of mornings at Glastonbury), some of us in a worse state than others, none of us fancying facing the bright daylight or rain again. But there was breakfast to be had, mess to be cleared up and tents to be packed up so we clambered out, sand falling off us as we walked.

We were given a lift back to Newcastle and caught the 12.30pm train back to Central so were home by 3.10pm. Ric was a little worse for wear though and had to run back and forth to the on-board loos all the way back to Central. Not so immune to the effects of alcohol perhaps...w

We had a lot of fun though and didn't even dip a toe in to the sea!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Melbourne Cup Day and Obama Win

When I was invited to GlobeCast's Melbourne Cup Day lunch over a month ago, I can't say I was that excited. After all, how much fun could a long lunch devoted to watching a horse race be? Especially when it wasn't even in Melbourne!

However, as details started to unfold about this event-that-stops-the-nation, including the fact that most of Australia (including our office) takes the afternoon off work (Victoria and Canberra shut down for the whole day!), that men and women in every state wear their finest garb to various Cup related functions and that there would be fine food, wine, sweeps and prizes for the best hats in store for us at the Maitre Karl restaurant in Willoughby, I started to feel more festive!

And what a fabulous afternoon it was, once we got there. We arrived long after the 12pm expected time, due solely to the infuriating habit the bosses' have of overloading us with all-but-impossible-to-meet deadlines minutes before we leave to go anywhere. We weren't too late for the entrees and champagne though or to place money in the sweep. I had never done this before and had no real clue what I was doing when I handed over my $5 note to a chap with an anxious expression on his face in return for a piece of paper with a horse's name on it: 'Viewed' - no one had even heard of it. I reassured my boss (who had placed a large bet on the favorite) that I never won anything. Meanwhile...

The restaurant, which seated about 50 of us, was delightful, managing to be both intimate and homely without being in the least bit twee or cramped. Charming, patient and efficient French waiters served plate after plate of exquisite European cuisine to the spirited crowd even while prizes, presents, races and the dreadful Latino Elvis impersonator were obstructing the way. I wasn't expecting anything special when I mentioned that I was actually a vegetarian (couldn't quite face the scallops and mussels) but the chef managed to rustle up some amazing dishes for me- there were even real truffles in my risotto!

As for the race itself, some of us had high expectations and a fair bit of cash to lose on the horses while others (me included) didn't really understand the form or particularly care what happened - we were just having fun - although the mounting anticipation was contagious regardless of our agendas. When the time eventually came for us all to stop chatting, pause chewing, down our cutlery and grab our sweep strips in order to watch, it was all over in a flash, even ending with a blurry photo-finish. Imagine that, a whole day centred around a five minute race! That doesn't even happen back home. As for me, I had no idea that I was holding the name of the winning horse in my hand until at least 3 minutes later! I had won $55 - I couldn't have been more thrilled! My boss muttered something about the unfairness of me winning and him missing out - "it's just not fair!". What could I say? I made up for it buying buying him a drink or two at a bar in Surry Hills later that day. I never expected him to agree to a drink as he and I have never really engaged in small talk before and The Clock on Crown Street isn't exactly his typical type of watering hole but Bridgitt and I pursuaded him to join us (well I did) and we found ourselves getting very merry with him several hours later!

I'm no political animal and don't want to step in with pithy aphorisms about this week's Presidential Elections but I want to say something about it. After the long and extensively covered campaign, it was a huge relief and deeply moving to watch the votes roll in for Obama on Wednesday. A chill went down my spine when I saw him up on that stage with his family receiving the results in front of thousands of his supporters and many millions more besides watching it through television screens around the world. Whatever he does next and however he copes with the extremely high expectations people have placed upon him to carry out what is arguably the toughest job on the planet, this is such a massive step for America and thus the rest of us too. I hope for everyone's sake that he proves his worth and is given the chance to fulfil his promises.

Ric and I are off to Stockton Beach (near Newcastle) tomorrow for a weekend of camping, eating, drinking, fun and games with some friends who are in the RAF. Unfortunately for our single friend who's coming with us, most of the boys will be spoken for. The forecast isn't too promising - rain and/or drizzle all day (typical!) which means we're relying all the more heavily on there being a tent for us to use, else we'll be sleeping under the stars! There's something very Glastonbury-esque about this plan all of a sudden...

Worse still, I think the 'pom' a work might have given me her sore throat which led to her having tonsillitis and possibly Glandular Fever!! I'm dosing up on vitamins tonight...

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Hallowe'en and Festivals

The sun is going down on another superb weekend here in Sydney.

On Friday I raced home from work with great excitement to transform myself into a racy devil woman for our friend Helen's Halloween Party. I struggled with the false eyelashes (mainly because I'd never used them before and the instructions were in Chinese!) but had no problem slipping the red studded cuffs, collar, tail, belt and horns on over my bargain Valleygirl party dress. I drew the line at the long black stick-on nails I also intended to wear- how would I hold my drinks or reapply my lipstick?! And the £12 wig looked just dreadful but we took it with us, on the off-chance that Ric might just enter into the fancy dress spirit during the party.

It was a terrific party; Helen had decorated the whole flat and put on an excellent spread of food and lethal punch. There were some fabulous outfits too- see pictures...

Then on Saturday once we'd crawled out of bed some time in the afternoon (I know - it's terrible at my age), we went to a food and wine festival in Hyde Park where the only thing left to buy were Dunkin Donuts and wine. My stomach could face neither. We sat under a lovely
Jacaranda tree with Charlotte and some friends as we soaked up the atmosphere.

The Aussies do like their festivals! Today as we set off on our Sydney Open tour, we came across another one next to Central Station, the Cruelty Free Living Festival. It was right up my street and I could have stayed there for at least the morning but Ric it was all to hippy and worthy for Ric who was already 50 metres ahead of me imploring me to hurry up before we missed the houses...

The open house tour was fun, though we didn't visit many places as our energy and enthusiasm for the queues wained. We first went to the Masonic Centre which was a strange place, then the old Sydney Fire Station where I snapped a fireman coming down his pole, the Sydney Water Head Office which was a rather ugly 1930s yellow tiled building, which felt a lot like am old hospital. The highlight of this place, we were told, was the men's urinals - sums the place up well I think! Then we went to The Mint and Parliament House where we were given an excellent tour by a very excitable Education Minister. Ric seemed a bit bored but most people were really into it. I guess it helps to be Australian in these situations. We were able to go right in and sit in the chambers including the The Legislative Assembly or lower house, also known as the 'bear-pit' where the ministers really scrutinise and lay in to each other.

I'm trying hard to ignore my OCD or at least talk about the thoughts I am having, which is making life a lot easier for both Ric and I. Today could have been a nightmare what with all the new buildings we walked around but it was fine. I know it's crazy, most of the time! I'm so tired of worrying about irrational fears.

Anyway, I can't dwell too long on such foolish fears. I've got another busy week coming up. It's the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday so I've got another swanky staff lunch to go. I've just learnt that most offices in Sydney close for the day and Melbourne and Canberra get a public holiday . I might even wear a fascinator.

My holiday to the East Coast with Nicole is all booked up and we're off on the 25th November for two weeks. Have I already said that? Can't wait!

I'm now composing a list of things for Ric's parents to do in and around Sydney, and beyond. I hope we can work out a way for us to combine all our wishes and have a nice break together.

I'm about to book my Glastonbury ticket for next year's mud fest. Am I mad??!!

And finally, if you are passionate about your area of London, I suggest you check out my friend's latest enterprise I Love My Postcode. She says if I give her a year she'll branch out to Oz!