Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Women Hold Up Half The Sky...

It's a great title for a post isn't it? Thought-provoking, controversial with a whiff of feminist rant thrown in.

But I can't claim any credit. These are actually the words of Chairman Mao. That's right, the founder of Chinese Communism. Women could do what men did, he said.

But don't despair. I haven't been off reading anything highbrow. Or anything remotely related to philosophy or Chinese politics (well not intentionally anyway). I filched it from an interview with Angelica Cheung, editor of Chinese Vogue, that appeared in last weekend's The Times Magazine.

And what it made me think about is our own woman in a man's world here in UK, Queen Elizabeth II.

Next weekend, we will celebrate Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee. That's 60 years as the Head of State in the UK and 15 Commonwealth realms as well as Supreme Head of the Church of England. I still remember her Silver Jubilee in 1977. Australia had a special 50 cent coin made to commemorate it and there was lots of telly-watching at school to enlighten all we convicts colonials about the importance of the occasion.

For all the good it did - I voted for a republic in 1999.

Sorry ma'am.

While my republican views remain firmly in place, I have to admit that there is something quite extraordinary about a woman who commits her life to her country at the age of 25 and still enjoys the kind of public respect and affection that Her Majesty holds today. Granted there have been ups and downs. But she still appears as poised, active and interested 60 years on. What a fantastic ambassador. She has navigated 12 prime ministers at home and many more of their counterparts abroad, across both her own Commonwealth realm and the world at large.

So as far as I'm concerned, next weekend's moment in the limelight is well and truly deserved. Here's to a woman who has seen her nation dutifully, safely, peacefully through a lifetime of challenges.

You could even say she's held up her piece of sky.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Travel Broadens The Mind...It's A Virtual Life

It's been a little while since Gidday from the UK has dipped into the pages of BA's business:life magazine. But a quick trip to Pilsen this week meant that I had some time to waste invest in finding a few fascinating facts to share with you.

Interestingly, this post follows the same examination of a particular topic by some of my blogging brethren. The Day Social Media Took Over My Life, Bilingual Baby M and The Facebook by expat bloggers Russell in Sydney, Linda in The Hague and Kirsty in Dubai respectively have all explored the pros and cons, the whys and wherefores, of social media. 

Like it or not, our world is becoming more and more digital and we continue to embrace it in all its doubtful glory as evidenced by the hype around Facebook's floatation this month. According to business:life, we watch sport online (36% of 18-35 year-old Europeans watch more sport online than on TV) and book holidays online (that'd be 2/3 of Britons). And 4.9 million people used WiFi hotspots in hotels, coffee shops, restaurants and airports in the UK last year. So even outside the dual digital domains of work and home we continue to 'plug in'.  

In fact 10% of people would rather give up their car than be disconnected from the internet...she says, tap-tap-tapping away here having given up her vehicle some two and a half years ago.

But I digress.

Did you know that 54% of British children say they'd rather go to Google with a query than ask their parents or teachers? What a sad indictment. Although this is probably just as well. Apparently 50% of British adults think that Mount Everest is in the UK. This does not bode well for today's British babies, 1/3 of whom will live until the age of 100.

business:life statistics reveal that 20% of us check our bank accounts at least once a day - could you imagine popping into the bank and standing in line every day? No thank you. All hail the internet I say!

And let's face it - the job market will never be the same again with 150 million people and more than 2 million companies worldwide using LinkedIn. But be warned. 1 in 5 bosses turned down a candidate because of their profile on social networking sites.

So it would appear that it still pays to be circumspect. To keep some things private

Especially as 28% of British workers deem nose picking to be the most anti-social workplace activity.

Do you think that's why 90% of people would still hang onto their car?

Travel Broadens The Mind - Back Catalogue
...The Euro Zone
...All About The Readies
...Flights Of Fancy
...Or So They Say

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Land Sans The Long Black...

This morning I met up with an Aussie friend of mine for brunch. S travels a lot for work and since he has the next 2 weeks in London before his next round of jet-setting, we decided to grab the bull by the horns - so to speak - and catch up over some scrumptious vittels and good coffee at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell.

S and I used to work together and as such, he is a fellow afficionado of both the Melbourne coffee scene and that bastion of Italian yummy-ness, Lygon Street. Way back when we worked together, we were fortunate enough to share premises with the barista training school of a very well-known Italian coffee brand. As such, there was no schlepping around with freeze-dried instant or filter coffee for us. It was punchy espresso with gorgeous caramel-coloured crema, warm milky-smooth lattes and luscious foamy (not frothy people - there's a world of difference) cappuccinos. Let me tell you, we knew our Robusta from our Arabica.

Then we came to London. And caffeine confusion reigned.

You see there are two types of coffee that are ubiquitous in the Land Down Under (and for that matter, in the Land of the Long White Cloud) but as rare as hen's teeth in Ol' Blighty. 

The first is the Flat White. It lies somewhere between a warm milky latte (a flat white has less milk and is served hot) and the foaming cappuccino (the flat white has less/no foam). It's hard to find in London but with the likes of The Australian Times providing a handy list of good flat white-rs in London Town alongside a little Antipodean word-of-mouth, it's possible. But most places here will translate the Flat White into a white coffee (a black coffee with cold milk), completely ignoring the craft of creating a steaming Long Black before adding a large dollop of warm milk.

Which brings me to my second point - the Long Black. In non-barista terms, it's a shot of espresso poured into hot water to preserve the crema.

Simple right? Not nearly as complicated as the Flat White one would think.

But apparently so.

Just ask for a Long Black here and watch the bewilderment appear across the face of one's waiter. Then try to explain it ie. a shot of espresso with hot water (and that's not getting into the size of the cup it should come in). In most places, the response is 'oh so you want a black coffee?' No. Not if you are going to stick my cup under the coffee filter for 5 minutes.

Some will respond by correcting you calling it an Americano, grinning proudly at you as they successfully navigate the lingo of yet another of the half million or so Antipodean immigrants living in London. Well no actually - but at this stage, an espresso topped up with hot water is starting to sound like an acceptable (and considerably less stressful) compromise.

But all I really want is a proper Long Black. I want a lovely shot of espresso - that's right, like you normally give one who orders an espresso - poured into the cup with hot water. Rich and smooth with a velvety crema. No bitterness, no acrid aftertaste. Understated yet still packing a caffeine punch.

Just like the one this morning.

Anna Hansen may have been 'chef-fing' all over the globe - and let me tell you the food was really, really good - but for the coffee alone , The Modern Pantry gets my vote.

Smooth, rich and velvety. Exactly the way I like it.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

I Could Have Been Born A Turkey...

Yesterday I was catching up on some emails and opened up Dr. Alan Zimmerman's Tuesday Tip.

This motivational email gets delivered to my inbox every Tuesday but it's been some time since I've read one. I'm not sure what made me open this email rather than deleting it like I have been recently. Maybe it had something to do with the title...

The BIG Lie About Success and the Little Secret of Happiness

Dr Zimmerman provides his own personal commentary every newsletter. It's wedged in between adverts for his courses but there's always a gem or two. Something to make me stop and think. Sometimes it reminds me to get back into good habits at work or refocus my energies on some simple basics. Sometimes it reminds me that people are people everywhere, wanting to be heard and make a difference, even when they appear belligerent, uncooperative and downright irritating.

Other times, like yesterday, it reminds me about the importance of being happy.

Those simple, often unexpected moments of quiet peace or contentment. The moments where I do what I love and love what I do - at work, at home, with friends and strangers. On the train, at the supermarket, in the coffee shop, walking in the park. In the midst of the familiar and in the maelstrom of the new. Everywhere and anywhere.

Not all the time. But creating the enviroment for happiness to occur is important. It's like opportunity - if you stay open, things show up. Stay closed and what's often right in front of you stays invisible.

The newsletter shares some tips - and I found myself nodding...

1. Learn to be happy with less

I am reminded not so much of stuff  itself but of stuff to do. Busy-ness. It's easy to get busy in life with stuff to do that merely fills my time and does not make me happy. I want to invest more time and energy in the things I love to do - expanding my horizons at work, writing, theatre, books, music - and the people that make me feel good. The ones I know about (you know who you are) and the ones I've yet to meet.

2. Seek silence

Peace is an amazing discovery. It took moving across the world for me to find it. I'm not sure whether it's connected to my physical location or my state of mind but my promise to myself is to stay in touch with what speaks to my soul, even when the route there looks scary.

3. Remind yourself things could be worse

Zimmerman shares a snippet from the cartoon series Peanuts which sums it up perfectly:

Snoopy...was lying in his dog house on Thanksgiving Day, he mumbled about being stuck with dog food while all those humans got to be inside with the turkey, gravy, and pumpkin pie. “Of course, it could have been worse,” he finally reflected. “I could have been born a turkey.”

Wise dog that.

4. Understand what you seek is spiritual not material

Zimmerman refers to this as mastering the 'art of living'. Being able to handle anything that comes your way. I've heard people say that God never gives us more than we can handle. Well I don't really do God stuff. But I have to say something always 'turns up'. The universe always provides and I have belief that it will all turn out in the end. It just might not be the end I was expecting. But there's often happiness there all the same.

5. Look for evidence of peace

There's a longer list in the newsletter itself but these were my top 3 so I'm keeping an eye out for: 
  • Less interest in judging other people as to what they “should” do.
  • Less interest in the conflicts and gossip that surround me.
  • Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.

So here's to making Gidday from the UK a space for happiness to occur.  Let connectedness abound and "shoulds" die a thousand deaths.

But I give you fair warning. Look out for frequent attacks of smiling.

Remember you could have been born a turkey!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Wired For Sound...

This weekend I was back at the lovely Phoenix Cinema for another From The Archives screening, this time to celebrate this particular local's 100th birthday on May 9th.

Every From The Archives follows a theme and as The Phoenix was the first cinema in the area to show a 'talkie' - The Singing Fool starring Al Jolson - in 1929, this afternoon's theme was the advent of cinematic sound.

The first clip set the scene - a 'trailer' for The Jazz Singer. Not a trailer as you and I know them but rather an earnest young man describing and then cutting to footage of the film and the opening night itself. In that day and age, cinema goers were astonished - the man's lips moved and his words came out! Extraordinary stuff when you put yourself in those shoes.

The second film was Walt Disney's first foray into sound and his introduction of the world's most famous mouse. I had read about Steamboat Willie a couple of years back as part of a biography on Disney - the movie is only 7 minutes long, but features Mickey and Minnie and big cheerful dose of that irrepressible Disney magic.

And then it was time for the main event, the completely joyous Singin' in the Rain. For those of you who have been living under a rock (and shame on you if you have), the story revolves around the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927 and the scramble of the major studios and their leading men and ladies to survive the rise of the talking picture.

But it is the combination of wonderful music, show stopping routines and the chemistry of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor that has you leaving the cinema humming 'Good morning, good moooorning!' and generally feeling that life is a pretty wonderful place to be.

And all of this for free.

Finally as part of the nod to 100 years of local cinema history, we had our photo taken in the auditorium before the show to be put in a time capsule for future generations to find. Just imagine what someone might think of us in 100 years' time!

And since I have been to three Phoenix freebies now, I decided to put my money where my feel-good is and become a Friend.

It's just a whole lot of unmitigated feel-good really.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

On The Move...

It's Sunday again and I have been sitting here wondering what to post about.

Should I take inspiration from this week's train reading and have a little muse about the lack of female role models?

Should I have a little rant about table manners and that the situation has become so grim that London's Kensington Hotel has taken it upon themselves to educate the nation's little savages with Petite Etiquette?

Should I express my incredulity that during the week, I learned (via a translated snippet from April's 'Emballages', a French Packaging Magazine) that in February the French Ministry of Ecology decreed that teabags were not packaging? (It may surprise you to know that there was quite a debate at work over this.)

Or should I convey my wonderment and excitement that the sun is indeed shining this weekend. All weekend. That includes yesterday when I spent a couple of hours outside and accomplished this...

Aaaah...such pretty paws!
All riveting stuff I can assure you...or it would become so under my fleet-fingered tap-tap-tapping.

But the birds are singing and the sun is out (did I mention that it's sunny?) and I have removed myself from my usual blogging locale in the Gidday HQ lounge room to here...

...because I have a bright shiny new laptop!

I can't decide what I am more excited about.

That I don't have to pedal hard to coax the old desktop into doing what I want - quite frankly, the number of times it has given up the ghost three quarters of the way through a post and made such a mess of what was saved that I've had to type it again. You guys should think yourselves lucky I'm addicted to sharing this blogging caper.

Or that I can surf from the comfy couch. Or anywhere in Gidday HQ for that matter (although the wifi signal did just drop out...)

Or that it goes fast. Really fast. Like 6GB fast. With lots of tabs open and stuff.

So I am tap-tap-tapping away as the birds sing and the sun shines through the french doors into the back room at Gidday HQ today...

...just because I can.

And for all of you doubting Thomases (is that the correct pluralisation for more than one doubting Thomas?), I would like to draw your attention to the date/time stamp on the photos to prove that it is really sunny today. Gloriously so...with a forecast top temperature of 19C.

So I'm off into the great outdoors again before it all disappears...

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Games People Play...

Not long ago, I succumbed to the hype and read Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. The brief review I'd read of the movie release did enough to convince me that it was a premise I'd find interesting: the human condition and how far we are prepared to stretch our own moral truths to survive and, indeed, thrive.

And it was a great story, gritty and fast-paced. In fact, so absorbed was I that I forgot that the protagonist is only 16 years old. Her story is riveting as she grows to face an adult world of expectation well beyond her own experience in the impoverished District 12. 

But here's what struck me most - the concept of the game.
The game is something that has grown to become part of our landscape with all the gadgets a heart might desire to make imagined worlds come to life. I remember the original Dungeons and Dragons and in my twenties, I got completely hooked on Riven and Myst thanks to a boyfriend of the time. Then life took me away from gaming until about eight years ago when a close association with a couple of teenagers (and another rather older "adolescent") introduced me to The Sims, Runescape and World of Warcraft. And haven't games all come a long way - so life-like. So real that the imagined and real worlds blur. And a player's highest praise is that they can lose themselves and escape from reality.

Like all of those spectators in The Hunger Games.

But it's not the first time I've found myself wondering about games of the people kind. As I read Collins' tale, I was taken back over 20 years to another book, William Golding's Lord of the Flies. This tale follows a group of English school boys deserted on an island, their attempts at creating their own society to survive and the savage power plays that lead to  not only the deaths of Simon and Piggy, but also the "young gentlemen's" rules by which they had always played.

At the end of the book, the boys are rescued but in reading those final pages, I couldn't help wondering whether it had all been part of some big experiment by the adults. And in re-reading the book again after The Hunger Games, the parallels between the two "themes" seemed even more obvious - what does the veneer of society actually hide?

To my mind The Hunger Games reads like Lords of the Flies sexed up for the World of Warcraft generation. But maybe I'm reading too much into it. What do you think?

Do you think the games we play reveal something of the way we would like our future to be or more about our "deep, dark past"?

Monday, 7 May 2012

A Woman of Substance...Again!

Here I am in the closing hours of a very chilled bank holiday weekend. Having spent yesterday in complete and utter indolence, I had decided that today should feature something a little more productive. So I ventured out for a brisk 40 minute walk around the local park this morning...

...and that's about all I've managed.

After being tempted by the final film in my current LoveFilm trio this morning (Inception, and by the way, it was absolutely brilliant) I kept the telly on in the background while I sat down to tap-tap-tap away. That's when all my good intentions flew out of the window.

One of my favourite books as a teenager was Barbara Taylor-Bradford's A Woman of Substance and guess what's showing on the telly - the whole series from 1984, back to back.

So I've climbed to the Top of the World (in the book this is Ramsden Crags on the Yorkshire Moors) and I'm just flitting about at the opening of the new Harte's department store in Leeds. I can't wait for the rest of the adventure to unfold...again!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Bliss For The Worker Bee...

This weekend is a Bank Holiday Weekend meaning some celebration of British-ness has given we worker bees next Monday off.

True to form, the skies have opened, the temperatures have dropped to single figures - 8C is the high for today, THE 5TH OF MAY (yes, that's me shouting) - and the forecast is not filling me with the hope of any improvement.

As usual.

But a damp-on-the-outside weekend can hold many joys.

Like a cover-to-cover reading of my beloved Saturday Times...

...some inspired planning for my Roman Holiday... 

  ...or a few choice flicks (thanks to a free trial from those kind folk at LoveFilm)...

...from the fabulous cosiness of the Gidday HQ couch.

But best of all?

I have nowhere I have to be and I have 3 lovely days in which to do whatever I please.

Now THAT'S worth celebrating.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Your 2012 Five A Day - May

What is it about jokes of the 'bodily function' variety that reduce one to a giggling adolescent?

As an Aussie making her life in the UK, I cannot tell you the amount of times I have let it slip that I got my pants wet stepping in a puddle on the way to work. Or that I left my thongs at the door to avoid getting your carpet dirty.

Yes, trousers and casual summer footwear take on a whole new meaning on the other side of the planet.

But this month's Five A Day reminded me of another Aussie twist on the English language...with the word root.

Here are few definitions from Merriam-Webster. It's an Encyclopedia Britannica company so it must know:

1a : the usually underground part of a seed plant body that functions as an organ of absorption, aeration, and food storage or as a means of anchorage and support and that differs from a stem especially in lacking nodes, buds, and leaves b : any subterranean plant part (as a true root or a bulb, tuber, rootstock, or other modified stem) especially when fleshy and edible

2 a (1) : the part of a tooth within the socket (2) : any of the processes into which the root of a tooth is often divided b : the enlarged basal part of a hair within the skin—called also hair root c : the proximal end of a nerve; especially : one or more bundles of nerve fibers joining the cranial and spinal nerves with their respective nuclei and columns of gray matter—see dorsal root, ventral root d : the part of an organ or physical structure by which it is attached to the body <the root of the tongue>

Nothing odd here. Long, complicated and a bit boring (actually I 'switched off' about two lines in). Just what you expected, right?

But in that land Down Under (you know, where women glow and men plunder), root is another word for having sex.

Yes that's right.


So when you ask us to root around and find that information, we suppress a childish giggle.

And when you ask us which route you should take, those fresh off the boat may let an adolescent snigger escape. (The rest of us are sniggering on the inside.)

And heaven forbid when you Americans say you are rooting for us...


So what cross-cultural euphemisms have caught you out? Go on, you can tell me.

It'll be our little secret...



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