Monday, 31 August 2009

Beer & wine makes you feel fine

Some of you might not believe this, but last week as an unusually alcohol-based week for me.

Mon & Tues I spent pretty much recovering from last weekend's excesses, which combined with a heavy workload, left me feeling pretty sluggish for the early part of the week. But by Wednesday, I'd got back into the swing of things and was very much ready for taking part in the informal book club I've become part of. It's more of a dinner & chat club than a book club, to be honest, but it's great fun and I've picked up a few books from it that I've enjoyed. We were round at my friend E's on Wed night for a lovely roast chicken, veg & potato dinner, followed by a gorgeous chocolate & mandarin cake (all home made). Yum. And obviously a few glasses of wine helped to wash it all down.

On Thurs, K and I joined another couple, L & P, at a 'boutique beer tasting' evening fundraiser for Sydney Children's Hospital. To be honest, I was only there for the beer tasting as I'm not a big fan of fundraising events, and I'm especially not that keen on the whole 'tugging the heart strings' approach for children's medical care, which in my mind shouldn't really be funded through charity in the first place (but that's probably a whole other blog...) This one was particularly toe-curling, especially as for some reason, the organisers thought it would be a GREAT idea to have a) extended speeches and b) an auction right in the middle of the whole thing. Note to fundraisers - either get the formalities over with at the beginning or leave them till the end, but never get between a thirsty crowd and their beers!

After my weekly day 'off' on Fri, which admittedly this week did involve me staying in my pyjamas till about 3pm (although I did also do lots of research into my potential career change...), I went for a run and then met up with K and his work pals in the pub (the Bavarian Beer Cafe, continuing the week's theme really). We grazed on pork crackling, sausages and the like, eventually taxi-ing home some time around 11ish.

Sat was a quiet one - we were supposed to be having dinner with friends but that was cancelled due to illness - and we couldn't even be bothered going to the cinema!

And finally, Sunday rolled around, a beautiful day albeit with a bit of a cool wind. K was up bright and early, induced by a state of anxiety about the Man Utd - Arsenal game and a need to get up and find out the result. They won = K good mood = good day for me! We thought we should probably do something with the day, so we headed over to Watson's Bay, a v pretty spot, and had lunch at Doyle's, a "Sydney institution". We'd not been before and weren't sure if we'd get in without a booking, but we did, and it was very nice, although definitely a premium price paid for the "institution" status and the views out across the harbour. The fish and chips was good, but not sure it was $40 worth of good. I had lots of good intentions about only having one glass of wine with lunch, but K was a bad influence on me (honest guv!) and we ended up splitting a bottle. We strolled around the head for half an hour or so after lunch, then ended up having a few afternoon beers before catching the ferry back to our place. All in all, a lovely Sydney day, and great to feel summer just around the corner.

Have got a fairly full-on week at work this week, lots of travelling and my regular freelancing gig on my 'day off', so suspect there will be far less beer and wine and feeling fine this week!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Manly and many beers

Writing this on Monday after a weekend of excess - I'm definitely too old for this as feel shattered and it's only Monday!

After a busy & active week last week (lots of running, lots of work, some non-work fun), Friday evening rolled around and I was happy to be catching up with some pals from the temp job I did when I first got to Oz. We went to a city centre piano bar, which was very plush and pleasant and all very civilised. Then after a few drinks we met up with K who was on a night out with some work pals, and after a few more drinks (outside, with no heaters on - summer is here!), decided that really we needed some food and found ourselves in Chinatown ordering plateloads of very hot and spicy food at about 10.30 - classy!

Home on the train and in bed by about midnight, but no rest really for the wicked as we were up quite early Saturday to head over to Manly (2 ferry trips away) for a day of decadence with some more friends, starting with champagne brunch, followed by a bit of a pub crawl. In the end, we only made it to one pub and stayed there all afternoon and much of the evening! It was a very good pub though, the Four Pines, with its own microbrewery and some very lovely beers. Some of our party opted for the tasting rack featured above, but I wasn't feeling hardy enough for that!

Rolled onto the ferry about 11pm and although didn't feel too bad yesterday, was just absolutely bushwhacked. Currently debating whether to go for an overdue run - but the couch is looking very tempting!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Harbourview Hotel

Tip for anyone in Sydney. The Harbourview Hotel in the Rocks does 2 for 1 cocktails all evening on Wednesdays and they're really pretty good! Few of us went there this week, it got busy from about 6ish but was quite easy to get a table. The setting's pretty nice, nestled right at the south foot of the bridge with trains trundling overhead and the water beyond. They do reasonable food and it's only 5 mins walk from Circular Quay...

"Blindsight", Maurice Gee

Also just finished reading this novel by New Zealand author Maurice Gee. The story centres around an elderly 'down and out' and his sister's complicated relationship with him. It's largely told through her experiences and perspective, prompted by a young man appearing in her life looking for his long lost grandfather (the brother).

Although some of the writing in this was excellent, and the sister is well-drawn as a character, I found the rest of it quite weak. There is a 'twist' at the end that I thought was unnecessary and seemed to jar with the rest of the novel and the characters. As a thought-provoker about why some people end up on the streets and cut off from mainstream life, it was okay, but a bit on the simplistic side. 5 out of 10.

"Dreams from my father", Barack Obama

Have just finished reading this book, which is Obama's first book, written before he got into formal politics and just after he finished Harvard Law School. It's an exploration of race issues in America, seen through the prism of several key phases and experiences in Obama's life including growing up as the mixed race son of a white mother and absent black father in Hawaii, living in Indonesia as a child, working as a community organiser in poor black neighbourhoods in Chicago, and finally during a trip to Kenya to meet with his father's family.

I was really pleasantly impressed with this. It's written beautifully and is very, very personal (rather than political). It's a strong insight into Obama's values and where they've come from, and reading it with the benefit of history passing, it's easy to see where his political philosophy has come from and how it's been shaped by a very personal connection with 'the political'. More than anything it gave me a great sense of hope that someone with his level of integrity, deep thinking and willingness to challenge and be challenged, can make it to the position he has. I don't often feel inspired but reading this, I truly did. Recommend it to anyone who wants to feel like that!

Aaargh bureaucracy!

This week's stress has been the nightmarish process that is replacing a UK passport while living in Australia. K and I had holiday planned for mid September - Vanuatu, diving, mmmm! - when I realised that my passport had gone missing from its usual safe place (obviously not so safe after all, yes yes I know!)

For some reason known only to them, the British High Commission in Australia has decided to 'outsource' all of its passport application processing to a 'regional centre' in - wait for it - New Zealand!!! The local consuls refuse to answer any queries about passports, and you can't contact the main embassy in Canberra other than by post or in person. So all you have to go on is website information or information from a helpline that costs $3.50 minute and seems to connect you to a call centre in Inverness (judging by accents of staff I spoke to!)

Then there's the fact you have to get your application and photo signed by someone who's known you for 2 years and is a 'professional' - not that easy when you've only lived somewhere for 1 year! And don't even get me started on the rules for photos...

Anyway, having jumped through various hoops this week, the application is now in progress but will take up to 4 weeks, and could be longer if they decide they need more info, which was cutting it v fine for our holiday. Thankfully the lovely people at Dive Adventures, our travel agent, managed to postpone it for us for not too much extra, so we're now going in November. Fingers crossed for no more hoops!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Possibly the worst restaurant in Sydney?

Last night K and I had by far the worst meal / eating out experience we've had in Sydney, where generally the standard is pretty high and you usually feel like you've had good value. Not this time.

The culprit - the Coachmen in Surry Hills. It's a Russian restaurant which may not be instantly attractive to everyone, but was the appeal to us as we still have very happy memories of the fantastic Russian place in Glasgow's East End.

Sadly this was a complete letdown on all fronts:

Service - appalling. Slow and totally incompetent. Long wait to ordering, then once we'd ordered, the waiter came back not once, but twice over the next ten minutes to tell us that first one of our starters, and then one of our mains wasn't available. Then he brought the wrong bottle of wine, then he took ages to bring the right one. We had to ask twice for tap water, then we had to stand up and search the place to get our bill at the end of the night (the waiter was found in the bar chatting to his mates).

Food - mediocre at best. 3 out of 4 of our first choices weren't available. K's borscht and beef stroganov was ok apparently. My crepes with caviar were ok, but my cabbage rolls with beef were pretty disgusting and I had to leave half of it. Our selection of pickled vegetables had come straight out of a supermarket jar as far as I could tell.

(Note when waiter came to clear our plates, he asked how my cabbage rolls had been and I said 'hmmm, so so', to which he replied 'oh well, at least you've left some for my dinner' - cementing him in my top 5 bad waiters of all time list!!)

Atmosphere - non existent. The place was cold (the advertised 'roaring log fires' were piles of ash), the music was dodgy, the 'decor' consisted of shelves lined with cheap Russian dolls, the bar / lounge area where you're supposed to relax with a vodka was full of staff loafing around and/or shouting at each other.

Price - shocking. We chose the place partly because it's in the list of places we can use our Sydney Entertainment Book (various discounts & offers), so we got one of the mains free. But by the time the $5 per head charge for the 'floor show' (some dodgy singers that we could hardly hear or see) and the 2.5% credit card surcharge was added, not to mention the pretty exorbitant prices in the first place, we'd paid $120 all up (about £60). For Sydney that's expensive and you'd really expect to get fantastic food and service for that.

Please never, ever, ever go to this dive of a place.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Running diary / blog

Have decided to set up a new blog / running diary, mainly to help me keep track of what I'm doing and give me a bit of motivation!

Anyone who's interested can find it at and I'll put a link on the sidebar too.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

August already!

Wow, it's 1st August already...

This week has been busy and eventful, starting with an early start on Monday as I had to fly up to Brisbane for work. Good to pass time at the airport catching up with my brother. Didn't see much of Brisy other than a couple of offices and my hotel room as I clocked up a couple of long days in my last week of juggling 2 jobs...

Weds I was tutoring for the School for Social Entrepreneurs (I do this as a 'spare time activity' - hmm!) and then in the evening took part in my first ever book group meeting - how I love being a thirtysomething cliche! Was a fun evening - group of women who all catch up over dinner once a month and then get round to talking about a couple of books for 10 minutes at the end of the night! Swapped a couple of my books for Barack Obama's first book and a New Zealand book about a homeless guy - a good way to expand my reading I reckon!

Thurs & Fri were pretty hectic finishing up with my job at Mission Australia, possibly not helped by a late night on Thurs where K and I met up after work, ended up going out for dinner then chatting till the wee small hours over one or three glasses of wine - we've not seen much of each other lately so it was good to have some 'quality time' but obviously not for my liver...

Good training though for Fri eve where I had my leaving drinks in the Orbit Bar, which is on level 47 of the Australia Square tower, and which rotates, doing a 360 degree tour of Sydney in 2 hours. The cocktails were good, the views were great, the service was terrible, so we headed off after a couple of drinks and ended up on a bit of a pub crawl of Sydney without having any food - surprisingly I felt ok this morning and we've spent a relaxed day catching up on the papers, eating lots of food and generally chilling out. Bliss.

Photos are of the famous "Sydney sprawl" captured on descent into Sydney airport from recent flight, and of the view from halfway across the Harbour Bridge at night. I finally remembered to take my camera and tripod with me when I walked over it this week! This is what I see on my regular running route - I'm a lucky girl!