Thursday, 31 January 2013

Commuting Gems...Word Play

I am a great advocate of anything that encourages people to read. I believe that the 'written' word has an extraordinary ability to create new worlds and bring imaginations to life. And I think life (and my commute) has a little less magic and colour without them.

This week I found two inspired ideas that are putting a new and modern spin on word play.
The first is BiblioTech, a bookless public library system. Conceived by a County Court Judge and book lover who saw 'the writing on the wall' for his papery passions, the library was inspired by the Apple Store experience and will be for visitors to loan e-books and, if needed, an e-reader. The aim is to have at least 10,000 titles available upon opening.

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Me 'n' Audrey would be in our element!

The second is WonderbooksTM, a clever combination of wordsmithery and game play which encourages gamers to interact with the world of books, and more specifically, Miranda Goshawk's Book of SpellsTM. Using augmented reality technology, 'readers' can experience thousands of different tales as they zoom through the halls of Hogwarts, words leaping from the page as they create their very own individual journeys.

Image source
I may never get off the train!

Speaking of journeys, I'm currently reading a fantastic book about the London Underground, delving into the origins of each of the 268 stations on the network (which incidentally took Andi James and Steve Wilson 16 hours 29 minutes and 13 seconds to visit - yes all of them - in 2011's Tube Challenge).

Quite frankly, I'd rather read the book - did I mention it's fabulous?

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Quintessential Quentin...

Over the last couple of weeks, there's been a bit of hype around Quentin Tarantino's latest flick, Django Unchained. His films usually generate lots of talk and debate and after seeing interviews with both Jamie Foxx and Quentin himself on The Graham Norton Show earlier in the month, I had added it to my 'if I get to the movies soon' list - which actually turned out to be yesterday afternoon.

Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a slave in America's Deep South who finds himself in the company of garrulous German dentist/bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (played by the fabulous Christoph Waltz). The movie follows the unlikely duo as they criss-cross the country pursuing the Wanted and making a tidy sum before reaching Candyland, home to Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie (and his outrageously outspoken manservant Stephen, played by Samuel L Jackson) in search of Django's wife, Broomhilda.

Foxx's Django is the movie's intense and brooding centrepiece around which the cast create their stories. DiCaprio layers smooth Southern charm over Candie's snake-like cruelty and the ridiculous capriciousness befitting the insanely rich and powerful white man who cannot imagine not getting exactly what he wants. Jackson's ornery and indignant Stephen is the perfect foil for Candie dangerous charm and even Don Johnson's (remember Miami Vice?) Big Daddy exemplifies the greedy, ignorant and unworldly white men who owned the populations and plantations of the Deep South.

It's an amazing cast with extraordinary performances but for me the star of the show was Waltz. Since seeing his chilling performance in Inglourious Basterds, I've been intrigued by this relative 'unknown' and while this character is a far cry from Colonel Hans Landa, his performance was every bit as mesmerising. Frivolous yet pragmatic, in his portrayal of Dr. Schultz Waltz captured the spirit of Tarantino - his passion for crafting his vision, his ability to tell a story without resorting to the esoteric or high-brow (let's face it, there is never anything high-brow about a Tarantino flick), his ability to give his cast the space to 'play' with their characters and his unadulterated joy in simply making movies. 

The film pays homage to the Spaghetti Western genre of the 1960s and is typically Tarantino - irreverent, unapologetically gory and in-your-face. It's also on the long side (160+ minutes) and there are a few scenes that 'don't work' towards the end but it is full of typical Tarantino moments and remarkable performances.

A great way to spend a chilly, grey Saturday afternoon!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Think You Know Your Geography?

During my recent visit Down Under, Dad thought it was a good time to expand my understanding of my Dutch heritage.

Limited thus far to wooden shoes...

...a love of tulips and a fetish for poffertjes...

I opened the video he sent through with considerable alacrity only to end up more confused than ever!

Let me show you what I mean...

I rest my case.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Pop Culture...

This week I have come across a rather cracking idea and it was delivered right to my desk.

I opened my weekly graze box to find my usual assortment of healthy snacks accompanied by this small flat package...

Intrigued, I tore it open to find a set of easy instructions...

So I popped it in the microwave....

...and voila! Popcorn! Mmmmmm....

It was delicious!

In other news, we've had a bit of snow. Here's snap from the train mid week... are a few from the office window...

and here's tonight's snowy trudge down my street.

Note to self: Melbourne was too hot...38C was too hot...

Sunday, 13 January 2013

There's No Place Like Home...

I've been back from my holiday for a week now. Colleagues have enquired about my Christmas, commented on my relaxed face/glowing tan and shared their own festive family stories. I am starting to sleep through more than 3 hours at a time and feel hungry when I should so am hoping I'm through the worst of the jetlag. And I'm settling back into my cosy routine at Gidday HQ.

After a long week at work, I curled up on the comfy couch on Friday night to watch an old movie favourite, Love Actually. I love the opening scene: the Arrivals Hall at Heathrow crammed with expectant faces and open arms, a testament the narrator says, to the fact love really is all around. And it took me back to my own Arrivals Hall moment just two weeks earlier, walking through the doors to my own sea of expectant faces and finally into the open arms of my loved ones.

As a frequent traveller, I see a lot of Arrivals Halls but there is nothing like searching out the faces that I love in the throng, that moment when I first catch sight of them, when my heart leaps, my step quickens and my travel-weary face beams. And this search was made all the more poignant by an unexpected voice to my right as I headed towards Mum's smiling face, a soft 'hello chicky' which made me swing around with delight and in just two steps, enfold my Lil Chicky in my arms. And yes, there were tears of joy and love and relief that the long wait to see each other was over.

The 12 days in Melbourne flew by. Joined by my itinerant old man and stepmum, there were family days out - like a visit to see the Sand Sculpting and a day trip to Williamstown - and chilling out time with Mum and Lil Chicky - massages, shopping, mani-pedis and many a soy latte. I even managed to squeeze in a couple of old friends (old in the sense that it had been 25 years since we'd been at school together) where conversation flowed between like and open minds as the years between the words simply disappeared. I remember thinking how funny it was that people don't change. Not really anyway.

So I drank in the magic and nostalgia of Marvellous Melbourne: the people, the food, the weather, the relaxed and cosmopolitan vibe of the city I used to call home. And on a glorious sunny Sunday morning, whilst sipping yet another soy latte, feeling the warmth on my shoulders and the colourful energy of the crowds at Southgate, my heart was assailed by the most overwhelming wave of homesickness. For London. Its damp grittiness, its eclectic colour, its commuting-friendly infrastructure, its mix of cultures. And for my very own Gidday HQ with its cosy warmth, comfy couch and familiar bed. And I felt my divided heart tear - just like last time I visited. And the time before that, and the time before that.

I'm back in Fab Finchley now with my first working week back behind me. All of the washing has been done, the fridge is full and there's a vase of fresh flowers - purple and white tulips - sitting prettily on the table in the kitchen. Workday routines and weekend rituals are settling in again. And here I am, curled up on the comfy couch on a chilly Sunday night tap-tap-tapping away. The memories are wonderful and will help to sustain me between hugs and lattes.

But there is indeed no place like home.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Of Hearts And Minds...

As long term readers of Gidday from the UK will know, about 16 months ago I crossed to 'the dark side' and got a Kindle. Audrey quickly became an integral part of my daily commute and bedtime ritual and it wasn't long before I wondered what I had ever done without her.

In short, I fell in love.

But even the best and most faithful of companions needs a little TLC so I am pleased to report that my stalwart commuting friend has a gorgeous new red frock.

Audrey's new duds - given it was a Christmas gift from Mum, it seems rather appropriate that 'melbourne' appears front and centre.
Doesn't she look fab?

This amazing cover is actually designed by artist Sharyn Sowell, a relentless traveller and blogger who is fascinated by the juxtaposition of the very old and the very new.

Just like me.

So it would appear that this meeting of hearts and minds continues...

...mine and Audrey's that is.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Everything Old Is New Again...

Being in Melbourne over these last couple of weeks has given me the opportunity to revisit some of my favourite haunts and one of these is Southgate. This cosmopolitan stretch of shops, restaurants and cafes line the Yarra River between Princess Bridge and the Crown Casino complex and offers wonderful views of the City Centre across the tree-lined river.

This view takes in the 'expensive end' of the City - where Victorian Parliament, designer shops and many of the banks' head offices are located - as well as the spires of Melbourne's own St Paul's Cathedral in the foreground.
A great juxtaposition of the elegant clock tower of Flinders Street Station (built in 1910 to replace the previous station built in 1854) against the more modern buildings behind.
The day we were there it was a gloriously sunny Sunday morning and this riverside precinct was buzzing with activity.

Street entertainers attract a fair crowd...
...while quirky sculpture adds local colour.
Crown Towers Hotel offers premier accommodation for both high rollers as well as those wishing to spend just a few dollars.

But being away means that each time I come back, there's something new in the landscape. Six years ago, Melbourne's newest tallest building, Eureka Tower, sliced into the skyline.

Eureka Tower is Melbourne's tallest building...but only since 2006.
This time it was The Docklands that captured my imagination. When I left in 2004, this area of Melbourne was early in its development so I was curious to see how things had turned out.

View of Melbourne from The Docklands with Etihad Stadium (venue for football matches, concerts and the like) in the centre.
The thing that struck me most were the stark and modern shapes...

New 'rooms with a view'.
This 'car park in progress' generated discussion about its interesting facade.
I love the use of adventurous shapes and textures which really typifies iconic Australian architecture for me.

And there's even a nod to old London Town with Melbourne's very own 'Eye'...

Melbourne's Southern Star awaiting the installation of its viewing pods. Again lots of opinions amongst Family Hamer about its false start (cracks found in the infrastructure apparently) and its location overlooking Melbourne's Western suburbs.
So whilst my Melbourne meanderings evoked many wonderful memories, I found much to admire about the clever blend of nostalgia and innovation into a spectacular cityscape...

...and it just makes me wonder what I'll find next time.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Eye Of The (Sand)Storm...

Well here we are in 2013 and with it comes resolutions that for me, are just begging to be broken. But I have gathered the very best of all my intentions to fulfil a promise I made a couple of posts ago to give you all an overview of my visit to Sand Sculpting Australia's Under The Sea.

Custody changes during my Melbourne stay (of me from Mum to Lil Chicky and back again, the latter of these taking place in a car park) meant that uploading of photos for this post did not go as seamlessly as planned. But with perseverence - and a return to Gidday HQ's wifi realm - I have prevailed. So take your marks, get your thongs flip flops on and let's get this Armchair Tour underway.

This hard working fella can be found in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.... the 'in' crowd - complete with piercings and an assortment of headgear - gathers at The Sign Of The Seahorse to catch up with the latest snail(mail).
The sirens' song and come hither looks of Mermaids tempt you to venture further...
...whilst this giant of the sea keeps a beady eye on visitors and carries the weight of a former civilisation - the Lost City of Atlantis - on his back.
Maintenance is an important part of the Sand Sculpting world so it's best to invest in regular check ups...
...before things get out of hand.
This creature of the sea casts a lascivious eye over passersby... it would appear that, like Poseidon, wild horses can't keep them away.
And just when a couple of cuties might convince you that it's safe to go back into the water... might find yourself caught out by the bare (faced) cheek of the natives.
It's a fascinating exhibit with lots of intricate detail and cheeky fun throughout - it's worthwhile going back and revisiting each to discover new elements you didn't see the first time around - as well as a speedy 10 minute demonstration of sand sculpting by one of the team on site.

If you want to read a little bit more, you can pop over to Mum's write up on Weekend Notes. Or if you are actually in the Melbourne area before the 28th April, get yourself down to the Frankston Waterfront and find your very own fishy favourites.

Phew! At last, that's post 1 (and resolution 1) for 2013 done.