Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Staycation...The First Day

Today is the first 'real' day of my little stay-at-home holiday (yesterday was a Bank Holiday here in the UK so everyone else had a day off too - which makes it feel a little less like it's my holiday.)  I had not specifically planned to post about it but I've had such a brilliant afternoon, I just had to brag about it share it with you all.

It started with a routine dentist appointment. I got the usual tut-tutting around my general lack of flossing, a bit of a clean and polish and that was it for another year.  I grant you, nothing really exciting to report.  But wait, it gets better.

Next it was a visit to the Oxfam bookshop, one of my favourite things to do.  I cannot believe that I lived here for over 6 years and only discovered this little gem about 6 months ago. I have not bought a new book since and my new-found attachment to this trove of glorious treasures has merely fuelled the little voice in my head that suggests that I would never get the same unabashed joy from a KindleToday the cunning plan was to drop off a bag of books that I'd read (I am a big fan of recycling the literary love) and have just a quick fossick before grabbing a spot of lunch and seeing a movie. 

Well, it was a longer fossick than anticipated and I came out with another half a dozen to add to my bookshelf.  But the best bit was a couple that have been on my 'list to read' for quite a while. First there's Leaving the World by Douglas Kennedy - I loved my first read of his, The Big Picture, so much so that I resolved to read more of his stuff (see Book 5. in my 50 Book Challenge). And there was also Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell, highly recommended by several literary-ily addicted friends and a Man Booker Prize Winner. I left Oxfam feeling like I had discovered the Universe (or at least a small planet).

The rest of my afternoon was spent with teenage babe-in-the-woods, Hanna.  I cannot remember the last time I went to the movies on my own (probably over six years ago which was the last time I was single) but it's such a joyfully selfish and indulgent thing to do.  I loved the movie and the girl who plays the lead is just brilliant/stunning. 

I emerged from the darkened cinema to a day turned all bright and sunshine-y so I polished off a fab afternoon with a spot of reading at home in the sunshine.

So that was my perfect, perfect Day 1 and I can't wait to see what Day 2 will bring!

Monday, 30 May 2011

A Guilty Secret...

I have a confession to make.

(Yes another one - you get real value on this blog!)

After many years of living here in the UK, the thing I love to dip back into most, particularly on a damp Bank Holiday afternoon like this one is an episode of Neighbours.

I mean, what's not to like about that laid-back never-rainy life in a cul-de-sac? (Which technically should not be called a Street but rather, a Court - actually it is a Court in real life, Pin Oak Court to be exact.)  It really signals a day off for me - whether it be on holidays or with a sick note in hand, to be best enjoyed from my super comfy vantage point under the green blanket on the couch in between other bastions of daytime telly, Loose Women and 60 Minute Makeover.

So today's late afternoon downpour had me rescuing the half-dry laundry and settling down to some cosy couch-based entertainment.  Bliss!

What will I do for the rest of my week off?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Life's Classroom...

Every week I get an email newsletter from Australian Times.  It keeps me in touch with what's going on with Aussies in London and also with some of the big stories Down Under.  But this week's article by Adrian Craddock, Does Being Australian Make You Less Employable? hit a particularly sensitive spot.

I arrived in London at the age of 34.  I had achieved a great many things in my career up to that point and my move to London, while sudden, was a permanent one as far as I was concerned. I had great references and could give many examples showing the results I'd achieved and how I'd 'managed' to do this. I'd qualified easily for my work visa under the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme. Note that this was not the 2 year working visa, or youth mobility visa as it's now called, that most Aussies who are under the age of 30 and without UK ancestry come on. I'd sold my apartment and had a shipping container of furniture on the way. 

No-one actually said anything but as I trawled the recruiters and the job boards and built my networks, I felt an undercurrent of disbelief from the locals.  Had I actually done all of those things at such a 'young' age?  Was I really here for good and how could they count on me not to get homesick and flee back to Melbourne? And for that matter, why hadn't I stayed in Australia if my career had been that great?

On top of this, I was faced with the constant refusal to believe that the skills and experience I had put to such good use in Australia (and in dealing with suppliers and customers in overseas markets while based there) could possibly be transferred to the UK.

And the longer this went on, the more difficult it got.  Added to the great unspoken was the question, 'Why aren't you working yet?'

My networks were gone - the Australian ones I'd left behind could do little to provide any pragmatic help and the new ones, while delighted with the opportunity to ask me 'what I was doing here', proved a bit of a closed shop.  I didn't resort to spending my time fulfilling the common view of Australians as hard-working wanderlusts, ready to 'make the most' of the plethora of multicultural experiences just a couple of hours and a few quid away across the Channel.  I kept working - temping and working in the kinds of roles I'd worked in 8-10 years prior - trying to get a foothold in the market and earn enough to pay my bills and build my life here. 

Seven and a half years on and a whole rollercoaster of ups and downs later, I've learnt a lesson or two.  

The first is around dogged hard-graft, relentless persistence and above all, emotional resilience.  It's tough to start again.  Really tough.  And it's destabilising to be without those taken-for-granted ways of life, the unconditional daily support networks and, not to put too finer point on it, money.  It made me dig deep to find new ways to keep going and new things to embrace about my life. 

Which leads me to the second lesson: humility, integrity and faith that it would 'happen' for me.  There is no such thing as being 'too big for your boots' when doing the coffee round for the office was helping me to pay my bills.  I was employed to do a job, whether I liked that job or not. And I'm someone who always wants to do a job well, sometimes in the face of much cynicism and comments like 'why are going above and beyond? No-one cares!'. (I am not a proud, proud Leo for nothing!) 

I'm emerging from a 2 year dip now, enjoying the sunshine (so to speak) as I climb to the top of the hill again.  It's good to feel inspired and hopeful.  Everywhere I look, the future is looking bright and shiny. 

And the best part?  I feel grounded, like I can deal with whatever comes, and lucky to have such valuable lessons from Life's never-ending classroom under my belt.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Rip and Review...The Music That Moves Me

One of the tasks that I have left undone of late has been the transformation of my CD library into a seriously space-saving digital collection.

By undone, I mean that I started it about a month ago along with a little 'sorting by genre' on the sideboard. Today I have resolved to complete this chore and make the place look 'tidy' so am currently in the midst of what I like to call a 'rip and review' - ripping all of these tunes may take time but is made infinitely more bearable by dipping into each and deciding whether or not they should go into the Faves Playlist.

The Faves Playlist is the one that I play in the background whilst doing other things.  Sorting the Spring/Summer wardrobe and packing away the Winter Woolies?  Faves Playlist on shuffle.  Tending to my small but thriving garden patch.  Windows open and Faves Playlist on shuffle.  Reading The Times newspaper from Saturday?  Faves Playlist on shuffle.  Writing my latest blog post?  Well, you get the gist.

I am sitting in my front window, the sun is shining after a brief 'fat-raindrop-style' shower earlier and I am currently listening to the students from the University of Granada (a CD I picked up whilst travelling in Spain in 2002), The Florestan Trio (a legacy of my brief but rather lovely subscription with the Australian Chamber Orchestra) and Acoustic Love (a CD I bought in 2006 in the honeymoon period of a relationship, you know when the world is shiny and people/things don't p**s you off nearly as much as usual) all the while dipping back into a few existing faves like Lady Gaga, Chris Daughtry or some 70s Disco (Born To Be Alive, You Make Me Feel etc).

I've come across some real joys this afternoon.  Music that takes me back to events and places and moments I'd forgotten about, some tunes that I've listened to today as if for the first time.  But I was unprepared for the effect of one particular tune - from the first moment I heard it until right here and now in my front window, it still moves me to tears.  It's not necessarily the words or any memory it evokes - it's just the most beautiful song and it's definitely worth a blog post to share it.

So here's Eva Cassidy's version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow to enjoy on your Sunday wherever you are.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Travel Broadens The Mind...Or So They Say

They say travel broadens the mind.  So it is in this spirit that I would like to share what I learnt during this week's excursion into the pages of one of British Airways erstwhile mags, business:life.

Firstly, did you know that 65% of British adults have no idea how to wire a plug? No? Well, I figure that as long as we have some competent electricians in the remaining 35%, I'm pretty comfortable with leaving this task out of my repertoire. Aren't you?

Then I turned the page to discover that 83% of smartphone owners regularly play games on them (I am not one of them - a game player I mean!) and that 26% of all mobile phone apps are only opened once after being downloaded (usually because they're free and pretty rubbish - you get what you pay for in this life).  This all seemed little bit like stating the obvious but trotting out some 'proper' stats at the next do I attend should up my 'street cred' no end.

On the subject of travel, I found out that £860 is the average cost of a holiday per person and that one third return to the same spot for their annual break.  Also, one third of Britons admit to imbibing five or more alcoholic drinks  a day while on holiday - not an amazing statistic in and of itself as I think this is commonly known as chillin'. But 10% of the British population also show some signs of dyslexia. Probably because we like to behave like we are on permanent holiday when it comes to alcohol consumption. (By the way, does this mean that the remaining 90% just can't spell?) 

Things then took a disturbing turn. 

70 is the number of times the average Briton is caught on CCTV daily.  All I can say is I hope they are getting my good side.  And a small note to self here: pay a little more attention to the details on the back-side - I don't like my chances of a 'positive' response to 'does my bum look big in this?'.

But even worse: apparently 1 in 5 UK motorists surf the internet while drivingWhat the ****!? Is this somehow related to the 83% of gamers on smart-phones? Is this a rebellion against not talking on the phone whilst driving? Where's that CCTV when you need it!?

By the end of the magazine, Britain's good ol' bastion of air travel had resorted to calling us all liars. 1 in 6 restaurants lies about the 'fresh' or 'organic' origins of its produce  (another 'no s**t Sherlock' moment). And apparently, 27% of Britons admit to lying about what they do on their weekend in order to impress others. Hey, you guys know what I am doing for at least a few hours each weekend as it appears right here - let me tell you it takes time to craft such thought-provoking and witty prose.

So I reached the end of the mag, and having enjoyed all of these titbits of knowledge, am smiling a little to myself as I close it, ready for its reinsertion into the seat-back pocket in front of me, when something else catches my eye and I just couldn't help feeling that the question that business:life posed on behalf of BA to all we readers on the last page was somewhat ironic...

May we offer you something to drink?

God I love travelling!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

I Want One Of Those...

I have a confession to make.

I want a Kindle.

I know.  I feel like a traitor.  Like I am betraying those well-thumbed pages, spurning those beloved dustjackets, and treating years of toting books with me hoping for the chance to curl up in a corner and bury myself in the story with disdain.

But A-down-the-hill has one and she was telling me how great it is to be able to download authors and titles at a whim, and at greatly reduced prices, and to be able to store hundreds of cracking reads for revisiting at some future date.  And let's face it - it's a lovely handbag size and would certainly support my 50 Book Challenge efforts during my commute.  And then I could get a lovely cover for it - something to express my personality perhaps, and to keep it protected from all the other crap bit and pieces in my handbag.

But what will the Oxfam bookshop do without my cycle of donation-purchase-donation? 

And what will I put on my bookshelf?

Hmmm, before I abandon a joyful habit of a lifetime, I really need to give this some thought...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Two For The Price Of One...

Today is Mother's Day...again!  With the UK already celebrating Mothering Sunday in March, it always leaves me wondering whether I should be wishing Mum a Happy Mother's Day then (as I am in the UK) or today - but I guess that two for the price of one is a pretty good deal and anyway, who am I to begrudge sending a little more Mother's Day love out into the ether?

In any case, those of you who read Gidday From The UK on a regular basis may remember that I have already posted in honour of Mother's Day Part One so I figured it was time to roast honour Mum in a different way - this time by regaling you all with the trials and tribulations of my childhood dressed as 'Two For The Price Of One'.  The story goes like this:

My Mum sewed.  A lot.  Before I came along, she made big stuffed toys like this gi-normous panda. 
Yes that's me with the panda!
She also made amazing 'pyjama dogs' that had a zip on the underside that you could pop your 'jarmies' in 'til next time.  Mine was orange. No, I do not have a picture.

Deciding that toys were not enough, she then moved on to outfits. It started innocently enough with individual ensembles...

(Lil Chicky was eye-ing off the Christening Cake)
And then she got thrifty...

Look at those ringlets - Mum's a talented woman!
We do love a birthday in the Hamer clan!
Actually I think our Oma might have knitted these vests - Mum got everyone in on the act!
And still matching hairdos!
...as not only could Mum get a better deal on the material, it meant that Lil Chicky could continue to wear my hand-me-downs for years to come.  (Boy, she REALLY loved that!)

Anyway, this continued on until we rebelled (it was a little uncool once we got to school and had friends who came over to play!), only to slide right back into it in our teens...

I'm (17) on your left, Lil Chicky (13) is on your right
...although we were being Mum's bridesmaids and she didn't make the dresses herself and they are different colours - but enough said.  A picture paints a thousand words.

So a it's couple of decades (and a bit) later and I figure Lil Chicky and I have managed to weather the storm and emerge relatively unscathed. ('Oh thank goodness', I hear you whisper.  No it's ok - don't apologise. I understand.)  But little did I realise that my departure from Oz had left such a gap...

Mum (L) and Lil Chicky (R)
Ladies, it's time to let go! 

Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of...

I was happily ensconsed at a local cafe this afternoon, sipping my coffee and picking at a slice of quite sublime lemon and ginger cake, when I came across an interview in The Times with some of the Brisbane-ites who were affected by Australia's shocking floods 100 days ago (yes I thought, 'only 100 days' too).

Right in the middle of the first column was a paragraph that really made me stop and think - it went something like this:

Someone said to me 'You should be thankful you're alive.  What you've lost is just stuff', she said.  'But your 'stuff' is what validates you.  Now we feel invaild and invisible.'

When I arrived in the UK over seven years ago, I had planned to be living with the one person I knew and had arranged for the contents of my flat in Melbourne to be professionally packed up and shipped here.  Long story short - he freaked at the 'responsibility' for me coming over here and I moved out after six weeks into a share-house with someone I didn't know. As one does in London...you know the adage 'When in Rome...'

So my 'stuff' (and my dreams) sat in storage.

I moved into my current flat a year later and I cannot even describe the joy of unwrapping MY couch, unpacking MY books, MY music, MY photos and pictures and basically surrounding myself with MY stuff.  It made me feel whole again, reminiscing over things that had been by-the-by in Melbourne but that had suddenly taken on a comforting and joyful nostalgia.  I remember unpacking my stereo, unearthing an adaptor from somewhere and, in the midst of the mountain of bubble wrap and paper wadding, listening to one CD after another: Kylie, Aussie Crawl, Bachelor Girl, Savage Garden, Noiseworks (just in case the neighbours did not realise that there was an Aussie 'in da house') as well as some vintage Madonna, Elton John and Neil Diamond.

And in that one afternoon, it became MY place.  A haven to recover from the knocks I had never expected, and the ones I suspected were still to come.  To catch my breath and take stock of who I was and to assess what I had always thought I wanted.  And to realise that in this 'stuff' lay not only the life I'd had so far but also the building blocks for the new chapter I'd started to write.
Six years later, I am sitting in my front window, the late afternoon sun is streaming through the dappled leaves and it's lovely and warm on my face.  I've written many more chapters since - the good, the bad and the heart-breaking - mostly ones I never expected I would write. 
And I remain resolutely and inordinately attached to my stuff...and dream of the chapters that are still to come.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Oh Happy Day!

I have resisted a Royal Wedding post, thinking that you may have had enough by now.  But it's the first day of May, the sun is shining (again!) and I've discovered I have something to say on the matter. 

There has been much discussion about The Dress(es), The Kiss(es)The SpeechThe Abbey, The Guests, The Outfits, The Cost and The Boon To The British Economy.

There have also been lots of comparisons drawn between the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and Friday's festivities and I am of an age to remember both - having sufficient 'vintage' to remember the first and enough of my faculties still present to remember the second despite consumption of such English fare as Pimms (and the sugar loading that is scones with jam and cream).

But in the main, I want to say this...

They looked so happy.  Like two people celebrating their choosing of a life together and basking in the affection and good wishes of everyone around them...just like a bride and groom should.

And I, along with approx. 24.5million others here in the UK, watched proceedings on Friday with a little tear in my Republican eye, raised my glass scone and wished them a wonderful life together.