Monday, 26 November 2012

Another Spotlit Stage...

It all started in Seville in 2002. It was an additional excursion, added on top of an already busy trip. Tourist-y it may have been but it was spell-binding.

In the deepening twilight, we'd driven down from our dinner in the hillside village of Mijas Pueblo to join the throngs at a tablaos flamencos in Seville. It was crowded and we had to push our way through to our reserved seating in the front rows (one of the perks of much-maligned organised tours). 

Before long the show began: the pounding feet, arched poses and haughty profiles holding my attention, challenging me to avert my gaze elsewhere if I dared. Women danced, men danced, women and men danced together. Skirts and shawls swirled and swayed, fingers flicked and clicked and the cantaores (singers) wailed and clapped. It was powerful and passionate and provocative.

Then a small man took the stage. He was not handsome or well-built. He had a hard, weathered face and a small wiry frame.  But he exuded a raw magnetism and as his heels started their gentle tempo against the floor, he looked out into the darkened audience over his hooked nose, turned swiftly, sharply and raised his arms.

From my seat in the front row, I could feel the heat of his body, see the beads of sweat rising on his face as he pounded the floor. I held my breath, my heart thumping in my chest and my eyes glued to this stomping, whirling, arrogant dervish in front of me. It seemed to last forever and be over in a minute. As he remained still for that last time, it was a few seconds before I could leap to my feet and applaud, so mesmerised was I by his performance.

Ten years later, my pulse still races when I remember the man on that small stage in Seville, dancing with such arrogance and magnetism. And it fuelled an ongoing desire to immerse myself in that wonderful Flamenco spirit at every opportunity.

This weekend I went to see Paco Pena and his Flamenco Dance Company at Sadler's Wells. It's the third time I have been to see this unassuming master of plucking, picking and strumming since I've lived in London and he has lost none of his musical magic.

This latest show, Quimeras, is a fusion of Spain and Africa. It is filled with foot stamping, arm waving movement that spends two hours weaving in and out of haunting wails and tempestuous rhythms. It was unbelievably good. So good that I was on my feet at the end, cheering and clapping until my arms hurt.

Yet for all its wonderful-ness, as I walked back to Angel tube station, my mind wandered and I was taken back to another small man on another spotlit stage.

My heart skipped a beat and my soul soared again.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

There Is No Plan...

I read an interesting piece today called Is 'Follow Your Passion' Bad Career Advice? and it gave me pause for thought.

I hear many people bemoan their jobs and wish that they could follow their 'true passion'. But what is that? Are we sitting around waiting for our passion to 'arrive' or do we need to go out and 'get it'? And how do we know what 'it' is anyway?

I am a passionate person. I feel and express things I believe in strongly and can become slightly addictive about the things I love to do. And over the years, I have been surprised to find some of these passions change. Strongly held opinions suddenly seem less important, replaced by some other perspective or tempered by time or a particular experience. Other times, they just drift quietly away.

One of the things I have always believed is that you get one shot at this life - and along the way, stuff happens. The good, the bad and the ugly - relationships and jobs, friends and viewpoints, and even circumstances - arrive and wipe their feet all over my metaphorical welcome mat. Some are polite and considerate, others barrel in with not much more than a cursory stomp on the threshold. And when they leave, it is with alacrity or nonchalance or something in between, leaving their impressions and their impact behind.

So the whole notion of 'following my passion' a well-thought through career plan...feels a bit at odds for me.

I remember being in an organisation in my 20s, formed to promote networking amongst young Australian women embarking on their business careers. One of our founding committee members was telling me about her career plan - to be working for this organisation and to be in this and that role by such and such a time. She was so passionate and unyielding in her commitment to this plan. Part of me admired her conviction. But part of me reeled back in silent disbelief. What about life and all of its unexpected twists and turns, the anomalies it sees fit to deliver?

The article I read speaks specifically about career but for me, career is not something separate. All of the different things I do - work, play, rest, relationships, wellbeing - are intertwined, with yours truly as the common denominator. So I think the lessons quoted in the article apply to life in total. Things like making excellent mistakes, persistence trumping talent and making an imprint.

And the point that rang most truly? That there is no plan.

There is no way of knowing what will really happen so embracing uncertainty and making decisions based on our fundamental beliefs - for me, the opportunity to contribute and make a difference - is likely to stand us in better stead than all of the best laid and well-reasoned plans.

And bringing my passion to the things I do and decide often results in these very same things taking on a surprising meaning for me. So when I stop being vocal, when my passion seems a little dimmed and my natural enthusiasm is on the wane, it usually means that a change is on the way...

...and that the current plan has gone out the window.

So how about you? Do you have a plan?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


I am perturbed people. Seriously perturbed.

With Christmas fast approaching and a trip Down Under on the agenda, it goes without saying (but I shall say it anyway) that I am looking forward to embracing all things festive with loved ones in Oz this year.

You know, the Christmas Day feast, either a BBQ or a seafood selection depending on whether we are at Mum's or Lil Chicky's.

The annual Stocking Sprint - or who can open all the small, ridiculously over-wrapped presents in their stocking first, thereby spoiling the 'surprise' element of each piece of tat gift for everyone else.

Or the Festive Forage otherwise known as where will Husband of Lil Chicky hide random pieces of Christmas wrapping at Mum's place and how long will it be before she finds them.

Yes I am confident that these traditions will resist our continued path through adulthood the test of time as well as Mum's desire to have a clean house/stop staying up til all hours wrapping teeny tiny presents.

But there is one tradition unique to Melbourne that really brings out the big kid in me, the 5-year-old who presses her nose against the window in wonder (okay maybe my nose doesn't exactly touch the window any more but you get my drift.)

The Myer Christmas Windows.

Every year, the windows of the Myer Store in Bourke Street Mall pay tribute to the festive season with an animated display of fairytale movement and magic. The crowds, young and old alike, line up and file past the windows, ooh-ing and aah-ing at Cinderella, The Nutcracker, The Night Before Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and many other well-known storybook worlds.

But this year, things have gone awry in a big way.

This year's windows, unveiled last week, pay glittery homage to...

...Russell the Sheep...who has apparently saved Christmas.

Who is this interloper?

What on earth happened to Rudolph and his shiny nose?

Only 33 sleeps to go til I can investigate for myself. 

Stay tuned peeps, I'm on the case...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Film Favourites...

It's Sunday again here at Gidday HQ and after a month of on-and-off work travelling, I am looking forward to being at home for a few weeks. Today I've done the washing, vacuumed and cleaned, and even popped out to replenish my lately depleted stock of vegetables. I have plans to cook some favourites: there's a veggie stir fry, a warm Mexican chicken salad and some sort of pasta on my culinary horizon this week. 

It's brisk and cold out today and right now I'm curled up on the comfy couch watching You've Got Mail. It's one of my favourite films. I have watched it so many times and yet I still well up when Kathleen closes the store and Joe's 'bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils' brings a smile to my face every time. My favourite line is when Kathleen's wise old friend Birdie tells her that closing the store is the brave thing to do because she's daring to imagine life without it. It's such a beautiful sentiment and really strikes a chord with me. 

Yesterday was a different kettle of fish. It was grey and damp after the overnight rain yet the prospect of being indoors all day was making me feel restless. So I hopped on the bus just after lunch and headed down to the Odeon Cinema at Swiss Cottage with Skyfall in my sights.

I'm not what you would call a Bond fan. I have seen a few, enjoyed a few and have Sean Connery firmly placed on The Best Bond pedestal. And I've had my doubts about Daniel Craig's iteration of the world's most famous spy.

Not any more. Skyfall was brilliant.

For two and a half hours I was glued to my seat - from the opening chase and the strains of Adele's thrilling Bond theme right though to the closing credits. Javier Bardem may just be the best Bond villain ever and Ben Wishaw's Q is brilliant as the world's coolest gadget man. The story shines, the stellar cast sparkles and Craig has finally won me over.

A fellow blogger has bemoaned the similarities between this and Batman: The Dark Knight and while there are some parallels, there is a richer story than such a simple comparison offers. I'm not one for issuing plot spoilers here on Gidday From The UK - suffice to say I would recommend you avoid finding out what happens and just enjoy the journey. In the meantime, I have been left in a state of excited anticipation, wondering what this brave new Bond world will bring. Bring on number 24 I say!

And on top of all of that, I have 'discovered' Swiss Cottage - well the intersection where the cinema, tube station and bus stop all congregate...

THE Swiss Cottage at...Swiss Cottage

Seems to me that that's a weekend very well-spent.

ps...speaking of weekends, I heard on the radio this morning that there are only 5 weekends left until Christmas. That makes it sounds really close. Let's stick with the sleeps to go thing shall we?  So that would be 37 sleeps to go. See? Plenty of time really...

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Travel Broadens The Mind...Worrywarts

I have been a bit of a travelling wilbury of late, meaning much mile-high consumption of a vast range of reading material. Audrey's had quite a workout but with the rules being what they are, there are about 20 minutes per flight when, after dutifully switching her off for take-off and landing, I wonder what to do with myself. And that's when BA's business:life magazine comes to the fore.

There's been a bit of a change in format with the latest edition and I'm not sure of some of the new 'regulars' (rare earth metal of the month being the most random). But you'll be pleased to know that the fascinating facts are still there so I'm delighted to bring you this latest edition of Travel Broadens The Mind.

This post's theme has been inspired by the pessimism of the British. Amazingly, in this nation of worrywartsone quarter of Britain's HR Executives have no formal policy to manage employee stress and anxiety.

It's a big problem. British workers have a lot to contend with on a daily basis. I mean did you know that they lose 10 million individual socks each year?

I wonder where all of the lost socks go. A lot seem to disappear in my washing machine, odd socks finding their way into my basket without their significant other. Sometimes I find a rogue sock ensconsed in a trouser leg but some seem to have disappeared for all eternity. business:life reveals that there's a fair bit of clutter in the average UK attic - £2,800 worth in fact. Gidday HQ doesn't have an attic but does have a cellar - do you think they might be there?

In the meantime, what should one do? I'm not sure about wearing odd socks so should one buy all socks the same so that they can be re-paired with new matchy mates? It's quite a conundrum. Particularly since 1 in 3 UK women hates shopping for clothes. (For the record, I'm in the two thirds.)

Maybe it's best to take a rest from the issue at hand altogether. Not only does a holiday sound like an excellent plan but by getting the destination right, you can actually avoid sock-gate altogether with a range of sandals, slides and flip flops thongs (unless you are a socks and sandals kind of saddo gal/guy). But it will likely take you 9 days to get back into a work routine after returning from holiday so all of those HR executives will have just a little bit more to worry about.

Just goes to show what goes around comes around.

But it won't be long before the stress-o-meter will be up again - at least for the 14 million families in Britain living with unfinished home improvements.

Because let's face it.

There's nothing like an un-done to-do list to give you something to worry about.

Travel Broadens The Mind - Back Catalogue
...Let's Play!
...It's A Virtual Life
...The Euro Zone
...All About The Readies
...Flights Of Fancy
...Or So They Say

Saturday, 10 November 2012

A Hard-Earned Thirst...

I read this week that alcohol consumption in Australia will reach its lowest point in 10 years this year.

I know. I couldn't believe it either.

Yet the Age newspaper has reported that a 2.4% drop means that Aussies will down just 9.8L per capita in 2012. This is ahead of our US compatriots (8.61L) but well-behind the Brits at 11.75L.

So what's the deal?

Well I'd first like to say that the badge of hard-drinking Aussie is pinned to the proud chest of the nation that gave the world Foster's...and kept the best beer (and wine for that matter) for itself.

Yes, Australia was not built on hard graft alone. Good call....

The second point I'd like to make is that this dubious honour is bestowed rapidly upon any colonial and then put to the test with considerable alacrity...and mixed results. At one after-work drinks sesh shortly after I landed on England's green shores (actually I fell in the snow and broke my elbow but that's another story), I found myself hard-pressed to keep pace with pint after pint downed by my workmates in the space of an hour. Brits can drink!

Interesting to note though that this decline Down Under has occurred in the time since I departed. So it appears to me that whoever my 'replacement' is (the population has grown to over 21 million since 2004 so someone is standing in my thongs flip flops shoes) is not pulling their weight. So there's nothing for it but for me to get down to Melbourne town and support my countrymen and women in their endeavours to regain their crown.

The Big Wine Cask is at Buronga, NSW just over the border from Mildura in country Victoria.

So to all you Aussie blokes and sheilas down under, don't despair - I'll be there in just 43 sleeps, drinking boots at the ready.

And I could really do with a nice Shiraz or two...

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Race That Stops A Nation...

It's a horse race deemed the richest 'two mile' handicap in the world for two dozen 3-year-old thoroughbreds over 3.2km. A race that literally stops a nation.  The Melbourne Cup.

The Melbourne Cup Carnival runs over a week in November each year and comprises 4 race days - Derby Day (Sat), Melbourne Cup Day (Tue), Oaks Day (Thu) and Stakes Day (Sat) - at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne's northern suburbs. It forms the centrepiece of the Spring Racing Carnival, filling the state of Victoria with prime equine specimens and department stores with hats and headpieces as far as the eye can see.

The first Tuesday in November (this year falling on November 6th) holds a special place in Aussie hearts. Melburnians get a day off and the entire nation - well the majority who are not at the course itself - manages its day around being in front of a telly at 3pm. There are BBQs, office 'sweeps' and much discussion around water coolers, coffee machines or over the bar about the chances of the 24 runners - yes, everyone's a tipster on Melbourne Cup Day. And there are a myriad of opportunities to 'put your money where your mouth is'.

Being at the race itself is an extraordinary experience (I've been 3 times, twice in the posh corporate bit). Melbourne Cup Day often begins with a champagne breakfast in your Cup Day finery in the Racecourse Car Park. For some it's an opportunity to dust off your headwear, don your gladrags and totter down to the mounting yard. For others, it's an opportunity to dress down and enjoy the atmosphere. Picnics abound and the bookies are kept busy particularly leading up to the big race.

Melbourne Cup punters - celebrating a win perhaps?
As the horses and their riders make their way around the mounting yard, down the track and into the starting gate, the excitement is palpable and experts and amateur punters alike jockey for position along the final straight and at the finish line. And as the starter's orders sound out across the course and the gates snap open, the thundering hooves of 24 of the world's best are overshadowed by the roar of the crowd.

Just over 3 minutes later, the winner crosses the finish line in front of more than 100,000 screaming punters.

It is, quite simply, electric.

This year's field, confirmed after today's Victoria Derby, features both the home-grown and the foreign and with a purse of $6.2million up for grabs, only time will tell whether current favourites and past winners Americain (2010) or Dunaden (2011) can join the exalted ranks of multiple winners. Winners like the prolific Makybe Diva, whose dominance in 2003, 2004 and 2005 remains unmatched, and Archer who won the inaugural race in 1861 then followed it up with another win the following year.

3 time winner Makybe Diva
And who's my money on? Well that'd be telling and to be honest, I haven't really checked out the runners. Suffice to say I'm off to read the form guide. After all, you can take the girl out of Melbourne but you can't take Melbourne out of the girl.

This post also forms part of the November edition of Post Of The Month Club.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Friday Funny...Bed Pan

Nothing much to say other than this made me laugh out loud when it got circulated at work today...

Haven't we all been here?

I do love a Friday giggle!

ps...there are only 53 sleeps to go til, well you know...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Your 2012 Five A Day - November

Well October, Halloween and British Summer Time are behind us and chilly mornings, darker evenings and cosy nights in are here for the foreseeable future. And both November and this month's Violent Veg pay tribute to a great British tradition.

Bonfire night on the 5th November celebrates the capture of Guy Fawkes, he of the infamous Gunpowder Plot. In 1605, 13 royally disenchanted men planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I. Fawkes was caught below the House of Lords with his fingers in the barrel, so to speak and was taken captive, tortured and executed. To celebrate the safety of their King, the people lit bonfires and burned effigies of Guy Fawkes and in doing so, guaranteed every British kid's expectation of November 5th celebrations - fireworks.

Unfortunately it seems that Eddie's enthusiasm for tradition has been a little misplaced...

This time last year, I was unpacking boxes here at Gidday HQ, hoping to get my new pad sorted before returning to work. I heard the crackle and hiss of local fireworks nearby and upon standing at the back door to check things out, was delighted to find I could watch the lot from the warmth of my new kitchen. Just another Fab Finchley bonus.

Hope you find something that lights your fire this November.

Five A Day Back catalogue