Thursday, June 30, 2011

'Home is the Hunter' - of Percy Pigs that is

It’s almost 6a.m. in Sydney and I am in that jetlagged induced haze where lashings of toast and an ancient copy of an Agatha Christie seem the only viable alternatives to lying in bed thinking about being wide awake when everyone else is asleep.

I have just had ten days in the UK with Drama Queen No.2, on a quick visit to catch up with family. Much to my disappointment the flight safety videos contained no surprises on the naked flight attendant front, and none of the crew broke into any kind of dance routine.
(If you looked at the Air New Zealand body paint video I mentioned in my last post, you might also enjoy their equally compelling disco dancing jive your way to safety take on the flight safety video front

In fact the only disco dancing moves performed en route to London were my attempts to clamber back into row 73 of the plane – for those of you who have never strayed far from the pointy end of the plane on a 747– I should put Row 73 into context – basically if you’ve ever watched movies of parachutists jumping out of the backs of planes, Row 73 is at the pull ripcord, point of no return, moment.

In the interests of travelling light I had decided that there was no point packing raincoats for Drama Queen No.2 and myself and thus pulled down the curse of the British Summer upon our heads. I have lived in my jeans and sweaters aside from the one day when the weather put on a stellar display of what an English summer day should be in what was termed the English Heat Wave. Based on the ‘blink and you missed it’ nature of the good weather I feel more inclined to term it the Mexican Heat Wave as it rippled through the country before we were plunged back into our wellies. The notion of breaking out my shorts resulted in a bitter and incredulous laughter. As for my swimsuit – I’m not quite sure what kind of parallel world I was living in when I packed it – aside from its uses as an extra layer of clothing in extremis it is difficult to imagine the circumstances is which I might have worn it over the last ten days. To be fair I think the weather was actually good in parts of the country but I seemed to be on one of those bring the clouds with you type trips as I shot between Edinburgh, Southampton, Devon and London - staggering into Barclays Bankin Balham dripping wet and wearing my hostess's wellies will remain the defining memory of the trip.

Tyler Brule who is one of my favourite columnists in the FT Weekend, ranks the world’s most liveable cities in his publication Monocle, and this year Sydney made it to a much deserved number 7 spot. He made the point that sometimes what makes a city fabulous to live in is not always the obvious, for example he rates decent water pressure in order to ensure a shower superior to the London dribble as one of his essentials. Reading his essentials made me consider about what I love about Sydney and I came up with following key points;

1. Proximity to the sea – the sanity of dipping one’s toes into the water and walking bare foot along the sand at the end of the day is hard to beat – (NB I am not talking about a North Sea blue to the bone type of seaside exposure at this point.)
2. Ability to get a decent cup of coffee, with the option of drinking it sitting in the sunshine watching a parade of street life wander by.
3. A village feel, Sydney is very much a series of neighbourhoods characterised by small independent shops and I love having a local butcher, baker and if not a candlestick maker certainly a fantastic cookware shop that could rustle up a variety of romantic lighting in the flame line.

However before I rabbit on too much about the joys of small shops, I have to admit I am a UK supermarket groupie – they are just fabulous and completely world beating. Merely entering a Waitrose is enough to have me sniffing the air in an ecstasy of gourmet greed. If I had to define it, the key difference between supermarket shopping in Australia and the UK is that I very rarely wander round our perfectly good supermarket in Australia going “yum must have that’ if you discount the confectionary section, whereas in Waitrose I am having to restrain myself from loading the trolley with everything in sight as it all looks so delicious and tempting. On that note might have to pop back to bed, particularly if I can find the bar of Galaxy I brought back from the UK – highlight of Australian customs experience on reaching Sydney was disclosing the 16 packets of Percy Pigs D Q No 2 had purchased, that had the effect of reducing the Customs Officer to giggles particularly when I added in my Tuck Shop sized grab bag of chocolate.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Simple Bare Necessities - the Kiwi way

It’s the Queen’s Birthday weekend so naturally the weather is filthy. There is a certain smugness to having decided against taking ourselves off to a beach house for the weekend. There are in my experience a limited number of activities suitable for both adults and children in the freezing cold of a strange house, watching the rain trickle down the windows.

I am long overdue for a haircut and so felt an immediate tug of affinity for the New Zealand icon ‘Shrek the Sheep’ who died this week and who was described at one renegade point in his life when he had been evading the clippers for some year, as resembling a sheep caught in a giant puffball. Watching the clip from the BBC recording the life and times of Shrek has given me hope for a similar transformation when Roger my own personal clipper applies the shears to my hair later on this week.

Husband has just returned from a couple of days in New Zealand and found himself goggling in amazement when he realised the Air New Zealand flight safety video he was watching was being conducted by staff wearing body paint. In terms of then giving the briefing his full attention there is no doubt he was completely riveted as the comely hostesses cunningly holding props over their vital bits pointed out exits and how to locate your life jacket. I think it is an absolutely brilliant idea and I can’t think why other airlines aren’t adopting the nude briefing approach. What I liked most was how much the staff obviously enjoyed making the clip, the pilot endearingly appeared on the edge of hysterical giggles most of the time.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit ....?

Drama Queens 1 and 2 have just finished a week of exams – calmness has not been the operative word in the household, to the extent that I was standing behind a woman in the chemist yesterday who appeared to be discussing the symptoms of worms in children - irritability was tipped as a key factor and I had to restrain myself from jumping the queue and ordering a lifetime supply for the teenage members of the family.

One of the things about living outside the country you grew up in is that at times you are overcome with cravings for the foods of your childhood. The passing of time and the fact you can’t get your hands on them easily imbue them with recollections of fabulous taste and texture. During the four years that we lived in America I invested a fair proportion of time sucking up to the owner of the local Irish shop in the hope of securing first rights on the regular shipments of Irish sausages and chocolate – the American versions of both varieties of food illustrating the taste expectation gulf between the US and UK. It was a Red Letter Day when there were Chocolate Buttons in stock, let alone the glorious week when I managed to purchase a case of Hula Hoops – I felt like throwing a 60’s themed party and inviting all my British friends round, just for the pleasure of passing round little nibbles dishes filled with the things.

Australia scores pretty highly on the fabulous food front and I have become a convert to the great Australian icon – the Tim Tam biscuit, so I wouldn’t want to conjure up a picture of a snack desert here, but at times I do yearn for the top treats of my childhood – interesting note here the types of food one craves tend unsurprisingly to be more of the Jaffa Cake than the Jaffa Orange variety.

Our guests over Easter were treated to a mass drooling session focussed on our favourite UK biscuits during their visit – and once they arrived back in the UK they very kindly sent us a giant package filled with Penguin and Club biscuits. I took the precaution of hiding a Club Biscuit for myself before the gannet like children arrived home from school, fondly imaging myself lying in bath with good book and chocolate biscuit – sad type of fantasy I know, but that’s what happens when you turn 45. For those of you unfamiliar with the Club biscuit, I need only launch into the advertising jingle that was popular when I was a child of “if you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit, join our Club”. Based on that criteria, this is the type of club that I would be signing up for life membership, regardless of cost. You can guess the sad end to the story – when I went back to the pantry cupboard to rootle at the back of the tins of butter beans where I had cunningly hidden the biscuit some child led by an inherited homing instinct so far as chocolate goes, had snaffled it. Irritable doesn’t even come close to describing my mood –pass the worming tablets quick – preferably the chocolate flavoured ones.