Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Good Book...

Lately, the e-book has come in for a bit of schtick.

At the end of February, Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan said said 'E-readers are representative of our mindless embrace of all that purports to be 'progress''. Then a month later fellow blogger Russell Ward described the Kindle as 'cold and calculating in its determination to deliver the electronic word seamlessly to you'.


Admittedly I was a slow convert, clinging on to both the physical and the ritual around my serious book habit. And I still love a good book shop browse. In fact last week I had an hour to kill before meeting A-used-to-be-down-the-hill and I spent it wandering through Foyles at St Pancras Station, perusing the latest dust jackets, dipping into travel guides (I'm off to Rome for a little city break soon) and flicking through the pages of Titanic-themed tomes in the special event section. Lovely stuff.

But the thought of finding more space in my already full bookshelf, packed with old theatre programs, illustrated coffee table books - for which I have no coffee table - and those volumes dubbed with 're-read me status' or acquired in youthful nostalgia (my hard back Jane Austen set and the 7-book Chronicles of Narnia being a couple of these) before my Kindle conversion, holds little allure.

On the other hand my Kindle - christened Audrey for her stylish simplicity - goes everywhere with me. There is nothing cool or calculating about immersing myself in a few quick chapters while on the bus, waiting for a friend, in the boarding lounge and even before lights out at night. Audrey is always at the ready and the Kindle shop only a few clicks away. Apart from my favourites, both old and new, I've discovered authors I would never have come across and been able to support the burgeoning efforts of a couple of budding writers in my blogging circle - just check out 2011's Book Nook numbers 51, 55a and 57.

Granted a Kindle is not the be all and end all. After all, there is nothing like a travel book for sitting on the plane, standing on a street corner in a new city or sipping espresso in a funky cafe, marking the places to be seen with folded corners and scribbled annotations and plotting my next adventure(s).

And I haven't quite managed the conversion of my magazine or Saturday Times newspaper habit yet but let's face it, the only way to conquer the Samurai Sudoku or the cryptic version of the Jumbo Crossword is curled up on my couch, pen in hand, steaming coffee at my elbow.

But villifying the Kindle and all its counterparts seems a little extreme. Like laptops, smartphones and iPods, the e-reader is just another symbol of our increasingly mobile lives and to my mind, something that encourages the consumption of the written word in every place or space. And that can only be a good thing.

Books still have their place in my life. But for me the power lies in the storytelling.

And I get to take that everywhere.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

I Feel Pretty...

I was out and about earlier and while there's still a nip in the air, there are blossoms everywhere, leading me to believe that Spring might have finally arrived.

Early in March I was delighted to see some scattered daffs under a tree in nearby Victoria Park...

Then we had a couple of weeks of gloriously sunny weather (remember that time when we were warmer than you beloved Melburnites?) We were all delirious over here and there was even a breathy mention or two...could this be the year that we have a 'good summer'?

Then it rained for a few weeks and I had to resort to bringing the outside in...

Bunches of daffodils are cheap here at this time of year and last between 10 days and two weeks
But today's blue skies and spring-like 14C (I know, my expectations have lowered considerably on the temperature front over the last 8 years) have brought forth a veritable tour-de-force of blossoms...

I was crossing the High Road in East Finchley today when I snapped this glorious spread behind my bus stop
I noticed these buds on my side fence from the kitchen window last weekend which are now in bloom. I don't know what they are so if any less horticulturally challenged than me can advise, I would not look stupid in my own garden be grateful
These are growing in random plastic buckets in the back garden. Haven't a scooby what these are either. They live without much input from me. This makes me look good happy.
London is so unbelievably pretty in the Spring - I actually think it's one of the things where it beats Australia hands down.

Even Google is getting in on the act!
Google 22nd April 2012
But lest you be misled, I should let you know that after a glorious t-shirt and light jumper walk this morning, it's now raining...

Yes indeed, Spring has definitely sprung.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Oh What A Night...

How could a post about the fabulous Jersey Boys be called anything else? It was a night to remember indeed.

To celebrate A-use-to-be-down-the-hill's birthday a couple of weeks ago, I decided to spring for a girlie night at the theatre. Jersey Boys has had such great reviews during its London run and you never know when these things are going to finish or get all expensive so I grabbed a couple of tickets and off we went.

Fuelled by a couple of glasses of wine over dinner beforehand, we climbed the stairs to the Grand Circle of the Prince Edward Theatre, squashed any vertiginous tendancies and squeezed into our seats to be greeted by a bird's eye view of the entire stage. Then the music started and we were away.

I'd heard of the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli - although I did get him a little confused with Ritchie Valens before the show began (it's sometimes good to feel too young to know these things for sure) - but with the first note, I realised that I knew every song. Some of the time I remembered the later cover versions - I particularly remember bopping along to The Spinners' version of Workin' My Way Back To You Babe in 1979 - but classics like Big Girls Don't Cry and Walk Like A Man featuring Valli's trademark falsetto are still as great now as they ever were.

The show charts the story of The Four Seasons, the struggle to hit the big time, the genius of Bob Gaudio's writing and Valli's extraordinary range, the personal tragedies and the ups and downs of life on the road. As Valli (Ryan Molloy on London's stage) points out, as the bad times always pass, so do the good ones.

This is a fantastic, feel good musical. The cast is great, the show moves swiftly and the music of the era runs its nostalgic fingers through slicked back hair and many great memories. And quite frankly I defy anyone not to let a little tune burst forth on the walk back to the tube. 

Oh wait...I think that was just us...

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Very Best of British ...

There are times in this expat life of mine that I discover something that I think is so random and nonsensical that there is nothing for it but to shake my head and laugh.

This week, I learnt about Premium Bonds.

Premium (or lottery) bonds were introduced by Harold MacMillan in 1956 as part of the government's National Savings and Investment Scheme. This is how they work:

1. You pay some hard earned cashola for a bond. You can sell this back to the government, at your request, at the original price you paid. No more. No less.

2. The government pays a return on the bond but not to you. Instead it goes into a central prize fund.

3. A monthly lottery distributes premiums to those bond-holders whose numbers are selected randomly.

4. The machine that generates these random numbers is called ERNIE. I kid you not.  It's acronym of Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment.

5. Your chances of winning (according to the Premium Bond Probability Indicator on are as follows:

Hold £100 over a year = 3.28% chance of winning anything

Hold £1,000 over a year = 28.3% chance of winning anything

Hold £10,000 over a year = 96.4% chance of winning anything

6. The anything you could win ranges from £25 to £1,000,000. But you should know that in November 2011, 99.75089525% of the prizes made available were £100 or less. Just to be precise. I wouldn't want any rounding up or down of the decimals to mis-represent the opportunity here.

After all, what could be a sounder investment choice than essentially putting a down payment on a whole lot of future lotto tickets?

But really, who am I to quibble about such things: apparently one in three Britons invest in them.

All I have to say is "The very best of British to them!"

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Tour of Duty...Gunners Style

For those of you who've been following Gidday for at least this year, you may remember I told you about my first sortie into the world of English football, in particular my visit to see Arsenal play Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium in the 4th round of the FA Cup. Arsenal won and I managed to have a jolly good time so it was thumbs up all the way round.

Well would you believe that I've been back already? After 8 years in London, I have managed to grace the Gunners home turf with my presence twice in 2 months but this time it was from an entirely different angle. I did The Stadium Tour.

As part of a Charity Dinner I was attending at the end of March, the tour was offered for those wishing to turn up early and get a sneaky peek behind the scenes of one of London's newest football stadiums.

We headed out from the function area in all our finery and followed our guide, Colin, to the other side of the stadium. Here's the view from the expensive seats:

We didn't hang around here though - it was off to have a gander at the Players' Entrance.

Interestingly, the players get hit smack bang with a big red wall the moment they arrive, just in case there's any doubt what they are here for.

There are also some photos of...well...blokes playing football (don't ask me who they were)...

...and also a time capsule placed in 2004 when the stadium was officially named.

Colin then took us to the Players' Change Rooms where we all got a little feng-shui'ed.

This is where the players change (obviously) and where Arsene Wenger briefs the team. The room is a horse-shoe shape (apparently corners are not great for Feng Shui) with every player considered equal. All sit in their allotted places every time: the defenders sit together, the strikers together and so on. The goalkeeper always sits closest to the entrance/exit and the Captain occupies the middle of the horseshoe's curve (see Van Persie's shirt in the picture above).

The middle table is low so that all players can see each other easily when seated. Colin is not a tall fella and as you can see, it only came to waist-height on him. (Sorry if you are reading this Colin.)

We then had a sneaky peak at the Away Change Rooms. Funnily enough, the room is rectangular and you might like to check out the height of the table...

Before we knew it we were heading out to the pitch...

...and into the dugout.

Citroen sponsor this area so the seats are specially designed...and very comfortable.

Arsene sits in that front row seat on the right. I happened to sit there without any prior knowledge of this fact (power attracts power maybe? I'll bet all the Gunners fans on the tour were gutted I got pole position) so I thought I should let you know what the Wenger view was like...

I know. It doesn't look that much different compared with the view from the expensive seats higher up.

Anyhow, we were making good time and the next tour group from our do was gaining fast so we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Press Conference room.

The Away Team Manager always gets the first gig after the match here. 25 minutes then he's off and Wenger takes the chair for 25 minutes. It's the Press Officer's job to make sure there's no over-running.

In the neighbouring corridor there are a number of rooms used by radio and TV channels for post-match interviews. You know when you see a player interviewed in front of a wall with all of the sponsors names on it? Well that's all it is...

...a wall!

Champagne o'clock was nigh and not wanting to risk the wrath of his thirsty guests, Colin led us back around the stadium to finish the tour. I know the photos start to look the same but I just had to take one more cheeky snap.

You can actually take an audio guided tour of the Stadium yourself rather than wait for an invite aligned to a posh function like I managed. You can also combine it with a visit to the Museum (which I didn't get to see so you'll be one up on me!)

I have to admit that it will never have the awesome magnificence of the MCG - they are just enormous shoes to fill. And I'm not a follower of English football (as we have established in my earlier post). But given that it's an intrinsic part of England's sporting culture, it was fantastic to feel the 'passion of the game' brought to life for the second time this year in Arsenal's hallowed halls.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

One In A Million...

A week or so ago I was flicking through the Metro newspaper on the train to work when a headline caught my eye - The Science Of Falling In Love. Apparently there are more than 15 million singletons in the UK (or there were on the 29th March at any rate). I had no idea I was part of such a large contingent.

While the article turned out to be a glorified advertorial for dating site, e-harmony, I was mildly horrified at the statistic that 4 in 5 people lie about their age, weight and height online. Not that they lie - although while not surprised, I do find that a little perturbing - but that they feel they must in order to attract a partner.

Has our online world really forced us down such a shallow path? I mean I love a flattering profile pic as much as the next person but to lie about the essentials seems a little counter-productive. Doesn't it all come out in the wash if things go well?

And I do mean the wash. Let's talk about Spanx for a minute. For those of you who have been living under a rock don't know, Spanx is a brand of body shaping undergarment - control pants or fixit knickers if you will - that boost the butts, trim the thighs and nip the waists of women (and some men) the world over. By all accounts these garments can reduce you by up to a dress size. (Blokes reading this should substitute whatever the equivalent for yourselves is here.) It seems that humankind seeks to emulate some idealistic form - whatever that may be - that will give us the best chance of attracting a mate. 

Whether that be for one night only or for many nights to come, my point is this. Eventually it comes off, leaving what you previously squeezed into some fairly uncomfortable underwear, out there in all its glory.

There's knowing how to make the best of what you've got - I'm a pear-shaped, short-legged sheila so let's just say skinny jeans are not my best friend - but this body shaping stuff is supremely uncomfortable. The pragmatic side of me also wonders whether this means that we need a wardrobe in two sizes - under control and out of control.

So where is the line? I could go on for ages here - there's makeup, body treatments (from fake tan to cosmetic enhancement), hair extensions and even the humble WonderBra - and I've tried a few. But in considering singledom from my view of the world as a participant in the marketing profession (yes there's another little snippet about me for you), is there a whiff of caveat emptor in today's dating landscape? How far should one go to attract attention before the advertising becomes misleading and deceptive?

I'm told it's just a numbers game and you've got to be 'in it to win it'. But is it really...

...or is it possible to employ a little creative license, get lucky and beat the odds?

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Flattened By Easter...

As you know I like a little baking foray every now and then. Easter is a very opportune time for this as a) I love Hot Cross Buns and b) every one of the little blighters here comes with a healthy dose of mixed peel (which I cannot eat being allergic to oranges). So as I started last year meaning to go on, it was time for Gidday's Easter Buns.

Buoyed in anticipation of lashings of butter on warm fruity buns, I weighed and mixed and kneaded and poked the fruit in. Waited an hour then formed my little parcels of Easter yumminess ready for the oven.

But something didn't feel right and I knew before I took them out of the oven (actually I knew before that but I was in denial) that there would be no light and fruity bundles scoffed at Gidday HQ today.

There was no rise. No uplift. The yeast had lain inactive. Inert. Literally flattened by the chill in the air. (In retrospect, I should have left it in the bathroom - the warmest room at Gidday HQ - to do its 'thing'.)

So I spent 4 hours today making fruity - and inedible - rock cakes.


Saturday, 7 April 2012

The 39 Steps...British and Brilliant!

Last night I popped down to The Criterion in Piccadilly Circus to see The 39 Steps. I read the book several years ago and then saw the Hitchcock film (with its amended ending) so I was looking forward to seeing how this tale of murder and mystery translated not only on to the stage but also into a comedy as well.

The play follows the Hitchcock movie plot pretty faithfully and there's a clever mix of effects, movement and acting which allows for the transition of each stage of Richard Hannay's thrilling and fast-moving tale.

The show is billed as 4 actors playing 130 characters over 100 minutes. The three female roles - the predatory Annabella Schmidt, the innocent Margaret and the 'do-right' Pamela - are played by Catherine Bailey.

Catherine Bailey plays Pamela, love interest for the protagonist, Richard Hannay
These are necessary roles in the story and Catherine does a great job with all of them. But this play, by its very nature, throws its male characters into the limelight.

Andrew Alexander plays Hannay with manic, John Cleese-ian fervour moving from privileged languor to adolescent awkwardness to splendidly British stoicism as Hannay evades the law, the criminal and any costume changes. 

The police chase through the train and across the roof achieves just the right mix of panicked flight  
That leaves 126 characters. And these are brought to life by Stephen Critchlow and Ian Hughes providing moment after moment of comic ingenuity...

An early moment of hilarity from Stephen Critchlow and Ian Hughes
So it is indeed 4 actors playing 130 characters over 100 minutes.

It is also inordinately clever and brilliantly funny. If you are in London and fancy anything from a giggle to a guffaw, make sure you catch this.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Travelling The Australian Way...

A couple of weeks ago I forked out rather a lot of the old cash-ola to fly Down Under for Christmas. It's quite a good deal for that time of year but still almost double what any self-respecting Aussie would pay to be wedged in cattle class for 24 hours.

So imagine my consternation when I opened my emails to find this...

...a brilliant April Fools antic from travel afficionados, STA.

All I can say is it's just as well I read the fine print!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Your 2012 Five A Day - April

It's April already. Seriously peeps, just where has the year gone?

This month's Violent Veg theme is acceptance, a topic much written about by expat experts the world over. When does your new country/city/town/suburb/street become 'home'? And what's important - speaking the lingo, making friends with the locals, finding your patch?

Maybe it's all three.

Eddie strayed onto the wrong patch, where some rotten vegetables...
...gave him a nasty veggie.
I've read that it takes 18 months to 2 years to feel settled in a new home. My own experience of moving to London echoes this with happy contentment arriving about 18 months into my foray into expat life.

So it would seem that my recent 'upping sticks' to Fab Finchley is still in its honeymoon phase and by my own reckoning, I have about 13 months 'to go'. But in lunching with an ex-Fab-Finchley-ite friend yesterday, I've suddenly discovered a few nooks and crannies to add to the list of fabulous-ness that I need to explore here. Beautiful gardens, stately homes and even a weekly soiree of the ballroom dancing kind may just be on the cards.

Just hope the natives I find there are friendly!