Friday, 30 September 2011

Travel Broadens The Mind...All About The Readies

Regular Gidday disciples may be expecting some travelling tales to make you green(ish) with envy. But I still have some significant photo culling to do - digital cameras definitely encourage much snap-happy behaviour - so it won't be the subject of this post. You'll just have to be patient a little bit longer.

But you know what it means when I do travel don't you - more facts of life courtesy of BA's business:life magazine. And this time it's all about the readies.

So the nitty gritty is this. 20% more needs to be earnt by families this year than last to maintain living standards.

Not the most joyous of equations is it?  But before we despair too much, let's take a little squiz at where the money is actually going.

Firstly £7.7bn is spent annually by Britons on maintaining their gardens. I can certainly attest to having admired the glory of British gardens since I arrived here in January 2004 so to my way of thinking, this is money well spent.

Next, 12% of British households pay for domestic help. Let's see: housework vs, well anything else. I think I'll be helping to push that up to 13%  real soon.

But then we are not watching the pennies everywhere, particularly where the kiddies are concerned with 66% of parents admitting to buying their children clothes they only wear once.  Although let's face it, Primark stuff doesn't last much past the first wash.

And how's this for a kicker. £50m is the annual cost of disposing of junk mail in England. That's getting rid of all of that mostly useless crap that comes through the mail slot. I recycle mine. Does that make a difference?

They say with age comes wisdom. 20% of UK car owners buy their first soft-top convertible in their 50s. 85% of British women over 50 spend more on their summer holiday wardrobe than they spend on their actual holiday and 71% of British grandparents are on Facebook. Sounds to me like grey power is having all the fun.

But with 6 million Britons having no savings - despite 43% seeking financial advice from family and friends (what does this say about the other 57%?) - and 30% giving investment in shares a wide berth, it's hard to see how we are ever going to fund these good times of the future.

Just as well 2/3 of households have one or more bicycles and 55% still haven't visited St Paul's Cathedral.

I predict a growth in staycations!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Freedom Of Speech...

There's been a bit of a bookish theme emerging in my posts of late - from the advent of Audrey to yesterday's Literary Gold and a little bit of something in between - and I've been inspired again by some leisurely breakfast reading over some excellent pancakes and coffee this morning.

Apparently Michael S. Hart died earlier in the month. 'Michael S Hart?' you say. 'Never heard of him.'  Nor had I. But this is the man behind the quest to provide free books for everyone on the Internet.

Michael S. Hart was an American author who began Project Gutenberg, an 'organisation' (for want of a better word) that provides free e-books to the general public. Trying to understand what more he might do with the computer provided to him by the University of Illinois computer centre, he wondered what value might be brought about through using it as part of a potential information network and on Independence Day 1971, he typed in the American Declaration of Independence and posted the text for others to download. 

And all this well before what we've come to know and love as the World Wide Web.

By 1987, he had posted 313 books this way including the Bible, Homer, Mark Twain and Shakespeare. Then through the University's PC User Group and with help of programmer Mark Zinzow, he was able to create a way for others to be involved as well. As at today's count, 36,000 e-books have been digitised and digitally proofed by a veritable army of volunteers. And are completely free.

Aside from his commitment to providing e-books to as many people as possible, Michael's mission was to "Help Break Down the Bars of Ignorance and Illiteracy".  

He may have lived a rather impoverished life but to my mind, Mr Hart left us an amazing legacy.

ps...BTW, I'm in Prague peeps. Posting this from a rather lovely hotel room. You may be wildly envious if you like. Look out for my travelling titbits soon.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Cat In The Hat...Is Back!

I went into work a little late today and someone had generously left their Times newspaper on the seat opposite so excited by a little more erudite reading I started to flick through the pages.  The big news today is this: the Liberal Democrats are having their Annual Party Conference, SAB Miller has bought Foster's Australia and the most exciting news of all, The Cat In The Hat is back!

Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1904 and aside from being an animator, cartoonist and artist, under the nom de plume of Dr Seuss he published some of the most notable and loved children's books in history. Who can forget Green Eggs and Ham, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Fox in Sox, The Cat In The Hat, The Cat In The Hat Comes Back and a whole lot more? Over 200 million of them in 15 different languages. And a Peabody, two Emmys, two Oscars and a Pulitzer to show for it. Now THAT'S prolific.

So imagine when I read that just next week, the new Dr Seuss lost story collection will be out. Discovered like a buried treasure - Carter may have discovered the treasures of Tut but scholar Charles D Cohen has hit the literary jackpot.  Here's a snippet to whet your appetite:

One bright sunny day, a young duck named McKluck
Had a wonderful wonderful piece of good luck.
He was walking along when he spied on the ground
A marvellous thing that is quite seldom found.
'Twas a small silver box. And it looked mighty old
And on top of this box, it was written in gold:
"Who finds this rare box will be lucky, indeed,
For inside this box is a Bippolo Seed!
Plant it and wish! And then count up to three!
Whatever you wish for, whatever it be
Will sprout and grow out of a Bippolo Tree."

So here goes...




                                            TAH DAAAAH!!

The Bippolo Tree and Other Lost Stories is out on September 29th.

That's only 7 sleeps to go.


ps...thank goodness I was late and picked up that discarded paper eh? Beats that shoddy 'excuse for a beer' story any day!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Gross Generalisation...

Each Monday I receive my Wallbook Weekly from Chris Lloyd and the folks at What on Earth? I usually skim over it during the first train ride of my commute (there are three each way every day you know) but this week's I flagged for a more detailed reading.

Why Children Fail.

It was the headline that caught my attention.

We have just emerged from another school year in the UK. One of supposedly higher than ever pass rates and higher still expectations that university should be the chosen path. For many, not offered a place at the instution of higher learning they aspire to, this may be a financial blessing in disguise as the inevitable outcry over increasing university fees - to be or not be - sallies forth once again.

So what will these bright young things do with themselves? And how will parents help them to navigate the uncharted waters of the fact that sometimes life isn't fair and you can't always get what you want?

It's a provocative point Chris makes in his article suggesting that there is an unconscious expectation for the education system to be entirely responsible for educating while in fact the most deep-seated behavioural learnings for young children are acquired in the home.

"What we are witnessing are the catastrophic consequences of the misplaced impression, ubiquitous today, that teachers, schools and the state (with all its laborious examination regimes) are what really matter when it comes to the education of young any adult who takes an active role in the upbringing of their offspring knows, the ultimate teachers for any youngster aged between 5 and 12 are their parents." 
Chris Lloyd, Wallbook Weekly, 12th September 2011

Yes absolutely, I think, casting my mind back to a childhood filled with chores to do, 'best behaviour' to master and honesty generally being the best policy - if I'm going to be found out (and I ALWAYS was) best to 'fess up and get it over and done with.

Then I am reminded of a debate recently held over the lunch table at work, bemoaning firstly the 'nanny state' which does not 'allow' parents to discipline their children as they see fit and secondly, the vociferousness of the young in proclaiming their right to be heard/have opportunities/be paid for etc which does not extend to 'washing the dishes' and contributing as part of a (family) community.

And in catching up with a friend this week, we remarked what a sad indictment it was to have a colleague of his (who works with teens) comment on what a great job he and his wife had done - because his kids were not involved with drugs.

Of course this is a gross generalisation. Or is it? Shouldn't we aspire to greater things than this - and I'm not referring to the 'trappings' either?

I've just finished re-reading Little Women and if I ignore the 'God' stuff (apologies if you are religiously minded but it just doesn't do it for me), the lessons are all there - family, humility, honesty, pride in one's work. The 'just getting on with life', the 'picking yourself up', the 'try and try again until you succeed'. You know, those life lessons that, with not much 'life' under your belt, you need your parents to guide you (whether you like it or not). Chris Lloyd's' Ministry of Home might not be too far-fetched an idea.

So in the midst of this maelstrom, I must admit to feeling a little relieved. Is it wrong of me to say that my no-children policy seems to be the best decision I ever made?

What do you think?

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Bold And The Beautiful...

The spoiler's in the title peeps. Today turned into a veritable flour frenzy at Gidday HQ as I tried my luck with my next baking challenge - Biscuits.

(I know I did Anzac biscuits in August but I don't really eat them/they didn't really look like biscuits so I thought I should have another go.)

Having bought a couple of extra ingredients yesterday while out and about - not wishing to give myself any excuse for shying away from this next frontier - I thought I'd get inspired this morning by catching up on last week's episode of The Great British Bake Off, a series currently running on BBC. (I am now wondering whether BBC actually stands for Biscuits, Bread and Cakes but I digress). Last week it was biscuits. 'Perfect!' I thought making myself comfy, spatula within reach. 

There were some disasters and some triumphs and as long as I wasn't attempting brandy snaps (that curl thing looks quite difficult) or macaroons (a high proportion of contestant tribulations here), I figured I'd be ok.

My first recipe was Double Chocolate Cookies (thanks to a recipe in Sainsbury's Magazine). All went smoothly, I put them in the oven to bake and checked on my 13 little biscuit bundles (recipe said makes twelve but hey, I'll eat one to test and then we'll be square) after about 20 minutes. They weren't kidding when they said leave 5cm between each 'walnut-sized' mound (how big is a walnut anyway?) - I had one rather large Double Chocolate Cookie on my hands! 'What to do? What to do?' my frantic mind muttered. And then inspiration struck.

This, my friends, is what an eggcup is for!

A useful gift and in Vegemite colours - what's not to like?
And so I cut and cut and cut, popped them back in the oven for another seven minutes and out came these little beauties.

Proud little soldiers - all cute and chocolate-y!
Inspired, I started on my second batch, Zingy Ginger and Lemon (props again to Sainsbury's magazine!). This one took a little creative thinking as the mixture just didn't seem to be quite as 'roll-into-walnut-shaped-balls'-able as my chocolate attempt but I soldiered on, dribbling little dollops of water until things looked (and felt) a bit more promising.

I am one who always learns lessons in life so out came two baking trays and soon there were 16 dollops ready for the oven.

But blow me down at the 20 minute mark they'd spread again - like they couldn't bear to be away from each other - and although not faced with an indistinct tray-shaped cookie like last time, I thought it was time for more inspired culinary thinking. You see, while the eggcup thing worked quite well, it did leave rather a lot of 'inbetween' bits which, try as I might, I could not eat in these quantities...

The inbetweeners - a bit like donut holes
So I grabbed some of those little round dishes you have for dipping sauce with Asian food and Voila!

Zingy Ginger - pre lemon
After 10 more minutes in the oven, these emerged to bask on the cooling rack (their chocolate counterparts having cooled sufficiently to migrate to a plate). 

Then there was the great Icing Incident. Don't try this at home without the right equipment peeps - it won't go well.

Oh dear - icing may not be my forte!
And not looking much better presented next to the chocolate ones either
Maybe I should have quit while I was ahead. But they taste amazing. Here's one I was eating earlier...

Delicious - never judge a book by its cover.
You may be wondering what I learned from this afternoon's baking exploits.  Well I learned that:

a) I am spatially challenged - wearing flat shoes has obviously blunted my appreciation for 5cm heels and who the heck knows what's meant by walnut-sized anyway.

b) I used think I was ok on the maths front but I cannot for the life of me work out how that much mixture only makes twelve biscuits.

c) I am not an accomplished baker in the presentation stakes but can improvise so that no-one ever suspects - I have not spent 20 years working in Marketing for nothing.

d) I am a mucky pup in the kitchen - a recent learning as I have just discovered some rogue icing on my t-shirt as I sit here tap-tap-tapping away.

But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting so stay tuned for the update after the people at work get their paws on them.


Nom, nom, nom...

Saturday, 10 September 2011

All Change...

I have not been as regular with my posts of late so firstly let me beg your forgiveness.

The reason for this is life...but in a good way.

You see on the 1st September, the contract role that I have been in since the start of the year became permanent. 

It's been two and a half years of financial uncertainty - wondering what more I could do to find (and land) a job that would firstly cover my bills, never mind a stimulating and fulfilling role in a company that would inspire me to develop my future there. I am excited, grinning from ear to ear. 

And relieved if the truth be known. There may even have been a few joyful tears. 

No more weekends spent trawling job sites, researching and sorting 'opportunities', clicking 'Apply Now' and in turns waiting for and chasing responses that either arrive by automated email (no matter how friendly and personable the prose, you still know) or not at all. No more looking into my financial plan and wondering whether I would ever be able to take a holiday or save for something concrete (versus squirrelling everything away 'in case') and look ahead with confidence.

And no more commuting four hours a day - well from November anyway. Because being permanent means I can commit - yes commit people - to moving. To the other side of London, a garden flat in the North bit (the other side of 'The River') that will halve my commute. Where I can discover new neighbourhoods, create new habits and take the final steps to re-building the life I want (I wrote 'my life' originally but it seemed a little melodramatic in light of tomorrow's 9/11 ten year anniversary).

I always thought of myself as a strong, confident and positive person and the last two and a half years have tested this in me over and over. I hadn't realised how much until this week when suddenly there was certainty in my future and I felt that unremitting happiness deep, deep down. 

The kind that inspires me and restores a little of my faith that it really does all turn out in the end.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

A Tale of Two Cities...

It's official. Melbourne, my home town, is the world's most livable city.
The Economist Intelligence Unit's 2011 Livability Ranking has placed Australia's Melbourne city as the most livable city in the world, with a score of 97.5. Austria's Vienna and Canada's Vancouver were ranked on the second and third places respectively among 140 cities. Source:
For those of you who haven't been to Melbourne and are wondering why it won, here are a few snaps from my trip last Christmas.

Melbourne City View from South Bank (January 2011)
Eureka Tower at South Bank - a new addition since my last visit
The Palais at St Kilda - and that's Luna Park in the background
Mentone Beach - lying on a beach towel (it was 26C and deserted, far too cold for the locals!)
There were also a few fond memories that the locals are likely to appreciate a little more than your average tourist:
Hamer Hall? The Greatest Show On Earth?  What a tribute!
Love is in the Air - The Myer Melbourne Christmas Windows featured The Nutcracker Suite last year
The best chips on the planet (yes chips, not crisps..bloody Poms!) - Burger Rings and Twisties!
But those of you who read my meanderings regularly, or know me well, know how much I love London:
Harrods from the top deck of the number 14 bus, a regular drive-by after a night out on the town
Tower of London - it was just there for the taking
View of the Thames from Putney Bridge (from another bus)
Richmond Park - splendor in the grass and right next door
Another delicate sunset - from the front window of my flat
The ice and snow last December - from my (then) office building
Footprints in the snow - where I've been
So in the livability stakes, it's a tale of two cities for me.

The first is the one left behind laced with nostalgic and happy rememberings. 

And the second is the one where I am quietly proud of the new life I have built for myself. The one where, despite it's lower ranking, I feel like I've come home.