Monday, 25 August 2008

Mon 25th Aug: Busy bees

This last week has been pretty full-on:

Tues eve – long session @ gym including run plus weight training – good but tiring!

Wed – fundraising dinner for one of the organisations that K’s company supports. Called the Pathways Foundation, they run ‘rites of passage’ camps for teenagers and their parents/guardians in the bush. Fairly typical for these kinds of things including speeches, auction, lots of wine and some slightly toe-curling “ice breaker/get to know your table” things. Was fun from the point of view of getting to know some of K’s colleagues a bit more.

Thurs – Bad hangover at work due to too much wine the previous evening. Resurrected by office lunch to say goodbye to my manager, who’s off to work elsewhere. A burger & fries was just the ticket! Then we went to see Paul Weller gig at the Enmore in Newtown in the evening. Along with Surry Hills, where we’re staying, Newtown is apparently one of the few areas of Sydney with any credibility among the non-surfing population (approx 12 people). It’s got a really good feel about it, lots of cheap restaurants and proper pubs and a bit more life about it than many parts of the city. The gig was pretty good, I was knackered but woke up by the end due to Mr Weller’s high-intensity energy levels!

Sat – big brunch followed by lengthy planning session for the various tasks that we need to do to get ourselves somewhere to live – we’ve decided to stay in Sydney for the longer term as it’s just too good to leave! Melbourne is lovely but we can always visit! Then we spent a few hours in an internet café checking out prices, areas etc. Then dinner at a fantastic vegetarian place called Yulli’s, then down to The Mac, “Sydney’s only house of funk” where we boogied away to a funk band for a few hours and then watched a bit of the Premier League live on their big screens!

Sun – area-scouting which involved just missing one ferry and having to wait an hour for the next one to a place called Neutral Bay, which turned out to have less life about it than a Victorian cemetery. Thankfully the neighbouring suburb turned out to be much better – it’s called Kirribilli and sits just on the north side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge – so great views and a short train or ferry ride into the main city. And a bit more in the way of facilities. It’s now our target and we’re plunging into the world of estate agents, rental applications and all that. A necessary evil.

Back to work today and not a great start to the day after a phone call from the baggage company who are already very late in delivering our bags to us and who seem to be unable to just give us the information we need to get our bloomin’ stuff back! Was meant to be arriving today but will now be Wednesday. Grrr. Don’t ever, ever use Excess Baggage or their Australian partner, Jetta Baggage, if you need to move stuff to the other side of the world!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Mon 18 Aug: Greatest sporting nation on earth?

For some reason I’ve developed a major streak of patriotism while watching the Olympics. I’m not sure if it’s being so far away from home, or because in the absence of the British media banging on about our medal hopes, I’m free to feel patriotic without being associated with all their jingoism, or whether it’s the unrelentingly upbeat and ‘go Aussies’ nature of the coverage here! Either way, I’ve found myself getting unduly excited as some random British sporting hero or heroine goes for gold (or even silver or bronze) and I felt an unmistakeable surge of pride when I saw we’d leapfrogged the Aussies in the medal table this morning! I’m keeping this to myself though, in order to avoid falling prey to another Aussie pastime – the fine art of “sledging” (aka taking the p***). When I made the mistake of saying to one of my colleagues, “The British swimmers are doing well this time, aren’t they?”, he replied “Aw yeah, they’ve made it to the end of the pool without drowning, that’s great”. (You have to say that in your head with an Aussie accent to get the full effect!).

Other amusing Olympic moments here include the Australian swim team’s song - think all the worst football songs you’ve ever seen and multiply it by a whole lot of extra cheese, then add in a complete lack of irony or embarrassment on the part of the swimmers – hilarious. See it here:

Sun 17 Aug: Watson's Bay weekend

After a fairly routine week of working, cooking, cleaning, shopping, going to the gym, watching the Olympics and generally just doing the things that need to be done, Friday night rolled around and with it came the “Friday night feeling”. Friday nights are one of my favourite times of the week, with the whole weekend stretching out ahead of me and a solid week’s work in the bag. It was one of the things I missed when I was doing freelance work in London – it doesn’t come as easily when you’re working from home and you don’t physically ‘leave the office’ for the weekend. I tried my best to mimic it by wearing work clothes 9-5 and clearing all my papers away for the weekend – and of course, keeping up the Friday night post-work drinks routine!

Anyway, I digress…on Friday we stayed local and went up to Crown St in Surry Hills. We headed to one of the bars where we knew we could get food later on and were happily ensconced in the last two seats in the place by about 6.30pm. I’ve decided to try to educate my wine palette while we’re here – seems a shame not to try to appreciate the Australian industry! – so I sampled several of the white wines on offer. My education isn’t going too well – I can’t really tell anything from anything, apart from chardonnay. Must keep practising!

We ended up eating in the pub – battered barramundi for me and lasagne for K – and after possibly one glass of wine too many (never!), headed home and collapsed into bed some time after midnight.

Saturday was an early start for me as I’d signed up to do a fitness assessment and program set-up at the gym we’ve joined. Thankfully I’d remembered to have a few glasses of water before I went to bed so didn’t feel too horrific as I got up in time for my 8am appointment. The fitness assessment involved doing a few minutes on a bike, a flexibility test and lots of poking and prodding and measuring to ascertain just how flabby I really am! The results were noted (but not discussed!) and will be compared with a new set every time I have a review – watch this space!

K was still asleep by the time I got back (no surprise there) but was soon up and about following an injection of coffee and the lure of brunch. Brunch was at a pavement café at the top of our street called Room Nine. We both had the “Cold Away” – orange juice, ginger, lemon and other nutritious stuff, I had a toasted egg and bacon sandwich and K had scrambled eggs with toast and a side of bacon. Yum!

Fully charged for the day, we set off on our mission for the day – to explore Watson’s Bay, which had been recommended to me by one of my colleagues. We walked from our apartment down to the ferry wharves at Circular Quay, just next to the Opera House (about 40 min walk) and caught the ferry around 2pm, getting us into Watson’s Bay less than half an hour later.

Watson’s Bay was glorious. Photos will appear eventually I promise but in the meantime, you’ll just have to take my word for it. It’s an area to the north and east of Sydney harbour and sits round the relatively narrow entrance to the main harbour. There are impressive cliffs known as The Gap which, in the days before lighthouses, used to lure sailors onto the rocks below because they thought they’d reached Sydney Harbour, but were in fact too soon – oops! These days there are also beautiful views back across the water towards the Sydney city skyline and Harbour Bridge. We walked along the coastal path and through a small national park which took us past a beautiful, secluded swimming beach at Camp Cove and then, further on, a rocky nudist beach – some brave souls were enjoying the sun (not sure it was that warm!). We saw sea kayakers, a few swimmers (also brave), a few more people paddling and a smattering of yachts and cruisers out on the water. After a couple of hours walking about, we headed back to the ferry terminal in eager anticipation of the famous fish and chips to be found at Doyle’s. Sadly disappointing (no vinegar or sauce!) but perhaps too difficult to please a couple of Scottish East Coasters when it comes to our home nation’s national dish! However, the lack of good food was compensated for by the accompanying view of the sun setting over the water.

Back to the apartment for a Saturday evening of Olympics-watching. My early start came home to roost and I was crashed out asleep by 11.30 – rock and roll!

The next day, after we eventually emerged from a long lie-in, we ventured back into the city and this time, went for the cultural option by way of a visit to the Sydney Biennale, a contemporary arts festival that takes place, well, bi-annually. It really wasn’t worth it. Thankfully it was free entry but even so, it was pretty awful. I’m no contemporary art aficionado and to be honest, find a lot of it pretentious and pointless. So I was there under sufferance in the first place, this one being K’s choice – but even he couldn’t find anything positive to say about it. There was one thing that was mildly thought-provoking and interesting, which was a photographic illustration of Sydney’s communist history. But that was it, out of three levels of so-called art. One of the exhibits was a framed cheque from the latest fundraiser for the 2010 Biennale, which was meant to represent who-knows-what. If it was my cheque, I’d have cancelled it!

Anyway, at least it gave me an excuse to have some cake, which is the only condition on which I agree to go to these kind of things. We found a nice harbourside place and enjoyed a slice of carrot and walnut cake (me) and cheesecake (K), washed down with a Victoria Bitter (me) and a Hahn Super (him). The waterfront lifestyle really is quite lovely apart from the killer seagulls that pounce on poor unsuspecting people who happen to be eating chips (and you all know how much I love seagulls, hmmm!).

Then it was back to the apartment for an evening of domestic drudgery for me while K reclined on the couch – he’s hurt his back and can’t bend down at the moment so I’m being nice and looking after him. Cooking, cleaning, ironing – Sunday evenings are the same whichever side of the world you’re on!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Thurs 14 Aug: Surry Hills

Our apartment in Surry Hills is a split-level, one bedroom apartment. It’s a converted terrace house and sits at the back of the house. As you enter, there’s a living room area, with a big TV and a nice comfy couch, and with an open plan kitchen off to the back. Patio doors lead out from the kitchen to a small patio/drying area and a shed which is home to the washing machine. The bathroom is also off the living room, with a lovely big shower.

Up a very narrow and winding iron staircase, is our bedroom. It also has a door onto a balcony outdoors, with a table and chairs for al fresco chatting etc. Unfortunately it’s dark here by 6pm and a little on the cold side, so I doubt we’ll be able to take advantage of this feature!

The main drawback of the place is the kitchen – we don’t have a normal oven/hob so we have to cook using a combination of microwave (which has a convector feature), electric frying pan and electric hotplate. With limited chopping and preparation space and only two sockets for four appliances (including kettle and toaster), it’s a bit tricky!

We’re based right on the edge of Surry Hills, which as I’ve mentioned before, is allegedly ‘edgy’, but feels perfectly pleasant to us. It takes about 10-15 mins to walk straight to the heart of the shopping and business district, 30 mins to Darling Harbour (regenerated waterfront area) and maybe 45 mins to the Opera House and main tourist area. You can be at the beach in about 15 mins on a bus.

As Sydney grew in the 19th century, Surry Hills became a major working class settlement and was notorious for being overcrowded and pretty squalid. Regeneration followed and by the 1990s it had started to become a magnet for young professionals looking for affordable city living (I could be an estate agent, no?!). These days it’s a lively mix of restaurants from all over the world (lots of Vietnamese, Thai, Greek, “Fusion”), relaxed bars, funky boutique clothes shops and a healthy smattering of community projects. It’s quite ‘eclectic’ and parts of it are still a bit run-down, while other parts are very bohemian. For example, one minute you’re walking past a major drop-in centre for young homeless people, then you’re at the oh-so-French Fivi Fouveaux café, then you’re outside an interior design shop selling quirkily angled lamps and sofas with strange coverings. It’s a great area, especially as it’s so central but I wonder if it’s a bit too close to what I’m used to – I feel the need to live near the beach!

More info at

Tues 12 Aug: Quantum of nonsense

Several years ago, when I worked in voluntary sector policy development, a colleague of mine entrusted me with a “jotter of jargon” (or a book of b**s**t, to put it another way). He’d gathered a litany of gobbledegook and mumbo-jumbo from his dealings with government, policy wonks and people who’d disappeared up their own backside while trying to sound clever. I still have that jotter, packed away safely in storage somewhere, and working in my current role has provided some fine examples to add to it!!

I give you…

“Mapping activity to establish the quantum of multi-funded NGOs for the purposes of assessing the scope of standards applying and informing the design of an implementation model.”

Now, quite apart from the completely unreadable nature of this sentence, what the hell does a “quantum of NGOs” mean!?

I felt the need to waste some time by looking this up online…Here is the definition of “quantum” from

1. (physics) the smallest discrete quantity of some physical property that a system can possess (according to quantum theory)
2. a discrete amount of something that is analogous to the quantum in quantum theory

Yep, that’s what I thought!

On the bright side, this may be the only occasion when the NGO world has had anything in common with a James Bond film.

Just two minutes later (and from the same anonymous author), I found…

“These findings substantially limit the complexity of the policy response required to address cross-program standards.”

I think that means “we don’t need to do anything because there isn’t a problem”.

And then, in the same day, but from a different source:

“…examine the most appropriate modality for the provision and support of training into the future.”

Yet again, I turned to to help shed some light on this curious language. Apparently, a modality is:

1. a particular sense
2. a method of therapy that involves physical or electrical therapeutic treatment

Electric shock therapy as a new training technique for NGOs – I can see it working!!

All similar contributions gratefully appreciated.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Mon 11th Aug: Jobs...

So today I turned down an offer of a job - eek! Was a bit of a tricky call as there was a lot about it that I was interested in, and it was with an organisation that I'd like to work for. But it just wasn't at the right level for me and would have felt a bit like going back a few years. I've got a couple of other discussions on the go with people about things that feel a bit more like what I'm after, so fingers crossed they pay off...

At some time soon we are going to have to make a decision about where to base ourselves and we don't seem to be any nearer resolving the Melbourne vs Sydney dilemma. We were sold on Melbourne until we started to settle into Sydney, but K is in Melbourne for work this week so he may come back having fallen in love with it again! It's exciting albeit slightly odd to have the feeling of various possible futures ahead - watch this space!

Sun 10th Aug: Finally, a decent film!

At last today we saw a decent film in Australia! We discovered an arthouse place on our travels through Paddington yesterday and it's actually only about a 5-10 min walk from our apartment, even better. We went to see Female Agents, starring various well-known French actresses and based on a true story (not sure how loosely) about a group of, well, female agents, in WW2. Won't spoil the ending for anyone wanting to see it but I'd definitely recommend it as a slightly different perspective on the war, well acted and well paced.

Sat 9th Aug: 2nd Birthday

Today was my 2nd birthday this year - K had organised a day of fun things to do as a belated birthday present - sweet!

We started by going up to Paddington, which is a young & funky part of town. We had a HUGE lunch at the Paddington Inn, a gastro-pub to compete with the best of them, where I stuffed myself with a steak, fries and side salad and a nice glass of pinot noir. K had a salad - the waitress was very confused when she brought our meals out!! Then we wandered round Paddington Market looking at lots of one-off clothes and jewellery stalls, followed by a meander through the city, right down to the Opera House where we had a few drinks in the bar underneath the Opera House, looking out onto the Harbour Bridge, before heading to see the "39 Steps" at the Opera House itself. Finally, in a complete contrast of culture, we rounded the night off with a drink in some Irish bar in The Rocks, which is backpacker central and was full of pissed people dancing badly to the Grease medley and other 80s faves - classy!

Hopefully I will be able to put pics up soon - the views across the Harbour this eve were absolutely stunning and it was fantastic to be sitting sipping a glass (or three) of red wine looking out. Special.

Fri 8th Aug: Let the Games begin

Today was the start of Olympics season, which is big news here because of course, the Aussies are actually in with a decent shout of doing well. Also, the free channel that has the rights for the Games is dying in the ratings so is milking the opportunity of a captive market as much as humanly possible.

As there's only a few hours time difference between here and Beijing, we ended up watching the opening ceremony - or at least, a significant chunk of the 4 hours it went on for! I faded once I'd seen the British team come out - nothing like being away from home to give you illusions of patriotism! K has clearly assimilated more than I have and stayed till the bitter end to see the Aussie team (they were third last).

Anyway, in an occasional series of "good and bad things about Oz", here are some observations so far...

Good things:

* "Washable" money - it's all plastic so survives the machine!
* BYO @ restaurants - loads and loads of places do this, it's great!
* Full-on sports culture - the public 50m pool is PACKED after work with hundreds of people pelting up and down the lanes (or laps as they call them). Not to everyone's liking but I love the fact that people don't look at you like you've got 2 heads when you say you've been for a run!

Not-so-good things:

* The price of books - about double the UK - I miss Waterstones 3 for 2!
* The average height of Australians which means I cannot find a pair of black trousers that fits me for love nor money - and no petite sections!
* "Oz blinkers" on TV, in the news, everywhere - there has been more coverage of Nicole Kidman's baby doing nothing than of the Georgia/Russia crisis. Seriously considering a subscription to some kind of international news journal to alleviate the drought!

Thurs 7th Aug: "Just the one"

Went to see a gym straight after work today - going to join up in a bid to get in shape for 9K I've signed up for in, yikes 6 weeks! K came along too as he's planning to find a 5-a-side team to play for and feels in need of some "pre season training". After we'd had the lookaround and sales chat, we were supposed to be going home and having a nice healthy homecooked meal. But then K uttered the fatal words "just the one?", which of course ended in "just the three and a burger & fries please!". We went to the Clock Hotel on Crown Street, which is the very first place we ever went to in Sydney when we were here 18 months ago. A particular bonus was the "roll the dice" promotion they were running, where rolling a pair got you your drinks for free - my luck was in with a nicely rolled set of "4"s!

Wed 6th Aug: A new dawn!

We moved into our new apartment last night - hurrah! We are actually going to be in one place now for 2 months! It's a nice little place - very central, in Surry Hills, which is apparently "edgy". Although when I told the person that said this that I used to live in a) Leith b) Glasgow and c) South London, he retracted the "edgy" comment and reckoned I'd feel at home! Sydney is pretty well-to-do and basically Surry Hills actually has some relatively poor people living in it, including some indigenous Australians (will save observations on THAT issue for another post!). I think the fact that only every other shop sells organic food makes it "edgy".

Anyway, this new move means we can both now walk to work (aw, together!) It's about 20 mins to K's office and 25 to mine. We're both based in the heart of the CBD (that's Central Business District to you!) where sandwiches cost a fortune but the offices are swanky. It's good to have a regular dose of daily exercise and great to be so central, although the beach is now a bus ride away!

Tues 5th Aug: How govt works (not)

Ah, the joys of government bureaucracy transcend all borders. Today I was inducted into the way in which things get decided and approved at my work. It involves a long, complicated process of drafting things, putting them in green files called "containers", waiting for a week while some big boss type reads, corrects, alters the draft, then re-drafting until satisfactory, then eventually said thing gets filed in a "white file". Oh and they also have to be coded using some arcane document management system. And all of this - wait for it, ALL of it - is done by paper. Yes folks, that's right, in the modern 21st century, the concepts of emailing and track-changing and all those super-duper things you can do seem to be lost on people here. Alarming!

Mon 4th Aug: First day @ work

Back to the world of work today with a not-too-taxing visit to one of the regional offices of the govt dept I'm going to be working for. Nothing too exciting to report!

On a completely different subject, here's our list (in no particular order) of "30 things to do in Sydney" - will update on how many we've done as we go along!

1. See a play at Sydney Opera House
2. Have a meal or drink at "Level 41"
3. Go walking in the Blue Mountains
4. Do the 3 hour scenic walk round Manly
5. Have a surf lesson
6. Go diving off Sydney
7. Go on a sailing course
8. Visit Aquarium
9. Go to Maritime Museum (done!)
10. Coastal walks (done!)
11. Botany Bay
12. Mardi Gras
13. Chinese New Year
14. Tennis (the poor relation to the Aussie Open!)
15. Sydney Festival
16. St George Open Air Cinema (summer)
17. Watch Sydney-Hobart Boat Race (boxing day)
18. Art Gallery of NSW
19. Northern Beaches Day Trip (Palm Beach - set of Home & Away :-))
20. Sydney Observatory
21. Botanic Gardens
22. Danks Street Festival
23. New Years Eve Party
24. Cronulla/Royal National Park
25. Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park
26. Harbour Circle Walk
27. Federation Cliff Walk
28. Stay in a houseboat on the Hawkesbury River
29. Soho Gallery
30. Hunter Valley wine tasting
31. Sydney Fish Market

Ok, there are 31, but who's counting!?

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Sun 3rd Aug: Sydney boat show

It was glorious weather here today - must have been around 20 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. After wandering around Darling Harbour and admiring the many yachts on display in the marina for the Sydney Boat Show, we visited the Maritime Museum, featuring a replica of Captain Cook's Explorer, plus a decommissioned Australian gunship and submarine. All very interesting in a shipping kind of way. The replica Explorer sails regularly and people actually pay to crew it, living a fairly authentic version of the life of a sailor in the 1700s - apart from the mass overcrowding, scurvy and rats I think!

Off to the cinema tonight to see Mamma Mia - the best of a bad choice!

Sat 2nd Aug: Beach & babysitting

Today we set off on another walk along the coastline, this time from Bronte to Clovelly, which is the opposite direction from the walk we did last weekend.

We saw loads of surfers again, tackling some very fast and pretty high waves and mostly getting wiped out as a result! At one point on the walk, the coastal path hugs the side of Sydney's cemetery where various great and good types are buried with a beautiful view out to sea, perched on a high cliff top with waves crashing below. V peaceful. We pondered on how much the real estate there would be worth these days!

After the cemetery, we descended down to Coogee beach where we had our worst eating experience so far. The beach cafe/restaurant was a welcome sight as we rounded the headland, as it was about 2pm and I was beginning to feel a bit faint with hunger (I have to eat every few hours to avoid this!). Unfortunately, or perhaps as fate would have it, our order seemed to disappear into some kind of Bermuda Triangle between front-of-house and the kitchen, taking 45 minutes to appear and then, only after our much-harrassed waitress had practically had to make it herself (we'd only ordered a toasted sandwich, some fries and a fritatta with salad!)

Anyway, we got a fair bit knocked off the bill so alls well that ends well...

Eventually sustained and nourished, we finished up our walk by doing the final stretch to Clovelly beach, which is a lovely arc of golden sand with a very calm surf, where people were body boarding rather than surfing. At one point we saw a very low-flying Quantas plane overhead which we didn't think too much of until later, when we heard the news that a 767 had made an emergency landing at Sydney airport!

By this time it was around 4pm so as we had babysitting duties at 6pm, we got a bus back to our flat, mooched around reading the paper for a bit, then headed over the road to where the people whose flat we're in live to look after their 4 and 8 year olds for the evening - it's the least we can do in return for free accommodation!

The kids were very good and were fed, showered, storied and settled in bed by 8pm after which we curled up and watched DVDs!

Thurs 31st Aug: Wet Paint (& wine)

Last couple of days spent immersed in shopping malls, internet cafes and running along the Sydney coastline. Shopping malls because having secured new job, I realised I've got no smart clothes (except for the ones that are still en route from UK). Internet cafes because life is a never ending list of "to do" points, many of which require access to the internet to complete and we've not been able to sort out mobile broadband access yet. And running along the Sydney coastline because it's simply too beautiful not too, plus my lardy lifestyle of the last few weeks combined with the hell that is shopping mall mirrors, provide good motivation in themselves!!

Of course, running hard two days on the trot, plus ticking off lots of aforementioned "to do"s is a recipe for indulgence and tonight provided the perfect opportunity. K and I were taken out for dinner by a group of his new colleagues as a welcome to Sydney. We went to a place called Wet Paint, in Bronte, near where we're staying. It was BYO wine, which is really common here, so we bought a couple of bottles of red. Others brought more red, plus white, plus beers. The place wasn't licensed to let us drink BYO beer, but by the end of the night they were turning a blind eye as some of our party (not me!) started opening the bottles with teeth!

Oh yes, and apart from the generally high intake of alcohol, we also had some excellent food. I had the special - a Syrian barramundi, with chickpeas and other vegetables. Barramundi is a type of cod and it was gorgeous. General murmurs of appreciation from everyone else indicated all the food was well-received.

There was also lots and lots and lots of social enterprise-based chat, none of which went anywhere in particular but I'm sure lots of important points were raised and discussions had, which seemed crucial at the time!

I'm writing this a few days after the event: the hangover the next day was a bit severe.