Sunday, 28 April 2013

Spring Frolic...

This afternoon I hosted a small group of friends at Gidday HQ.

Our quartet - or Fab Four if you like - makes an effort to do something together every month. March saw us venture into The Lost Lectures, February was lunch at The Banana Store and a wander around Borough Market (see my post on London's Hip Pocket for more on this outing) and last year we discovered  some rather delectable delights at Ceviche in London's Soho and beneath Tower Bridge at The Perkin Reveller.

It has been such a busy time for our little quartet that there was a danger of April slipping away without a Fab Four frolic. So I took matters into my own hands and invited my trio of lovely ladies for a Gidday soiree on the back patio.

To my delight (and great relief) the weather stayed dry and while it was a trifle chilly, I had blankets and wraps on hand. There was even much excitement when the sun made a cursory appearance between main course and dessert and for a few brief minutes, we basked in Spring-like warmth.

I learnt years ago that the key to being able to enjoy hosting these events is being prepared - I have no desire to be stuck in the kitchen while my guests are having all of the fun.  So we started proceedings with a vegetable platter, an avocado dip and some Mediterranean bread and seeded crackers for dipping - and I got to enjoy the wine and conversation, both of which flowed effortlessly.

To follow was a cheese and vegetable pastry-less quiche which went down a storm and after part-baking this morning, only need another 20mins in the oven. It came with a big bowl of green salad (easy to whip up) and some fresh vine tomatoes marinated in a light dressing (made last night) all of which meant I spent more time at the table...and drank more wine.

But the thing I am most proud of is my dessert - individual ginger and white chocolate cheesecakes...

..built to frame the cute champagne candles I had found in Tesco a couple of weeks ago and complete with golden 'bubbles'. And made last night meaning even more time at the table for me this afternoon.

Before long, over three hours had passed, the coffees had been finished and it was time for my visitors to go.

It was such a pleasant Sunday afternoon and it reminded me how much I love to cook for other people, an opportunity that needs to be 'manufactured' in my time of singledom versus being ever-present - as it was - when I was part of a couple. And in any case, solo cooking exploits can be quite dangerous. Prior experience tells me that one cannot should not consume cheesecake (or any baked goods for that matter) on one's own and still expect to fit into one's jeans. Sharing is definitely the key.

So here's to more Spring Sundays with fabulous friends, scrumptious sustenance and convivial conversation.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Word On The Street...

Here I was flicking through the Evening Standard on the bus home tonight, the sun (yes, that bright, shiny thing in the sky has been back this week) bouncing boldly off the windows when I turned the page and saw this...

Alicia Martin's sculpture at Casa de America, Madrid
How amazing is that!

So I googled Alicia Martin and saw that she is quite the clever clogs with this installation caper. She did one in The Hague in The Netherlands last year...

Aren't they just fantastic? You definitely couldn't do THAT with a Kindle. (Sorry Audrey!)

ps...reminds me that we're overdue for a visit to the Gidday Book Nook too...soon peeps I promise.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Feet First?

It often fascinates me the time the people spend on coming up with stuff. I've heard all about creative minds and how being unconstrained produces leading edge thinking and world changing ideas. But there are times when I think to myself, what exactly is the point?

Last month I went to The Lost Lectures, a series of talks which are held in 'secret locations' around London with the aim of moving out of traditional spaces and bringing the imagination to life. It was my first Lost Lectures foray and I found myself enchanted, interested, puzzled and ultimately pretty happy about my latest discovery. But one of the talks left me a bit underwhelmed - a talk about jelly architecture by self-professed jellymongers, Bompass and Parr.

I get that jelly is fun. Frogs in a pond, hot donuts oozing with the stuff, a partner - albeit controversial - to peanut butter and integral to trifle, jelly has been a part of many a childhood.

Kids dessert frogs in a pond
In recent times, flavours have become more sophisticated to appeal to adults while jelly's natural qualities have continued to meet demands for effortless healthy living.
And then there are vodka jelly shots. And jelly wrestling. (Just catering to whatever jelly predelictions you may be harbouring dear Gidday-ers. I know you're an ecclectic bunch!)
But Bompass and Parr make buildings...yes buildings...from jelly. Here's one they'd made - and some people had eaten - earlier...

It didn't taste great. Which was disappointing, particularly as Sam Bompass had seemed so passionate about the flavour and quality.

But lo and behold, something dropped into my email box last week that lifted my jellied spirits (no vodka involved).

Gummi men!

In Japan, Valentine's Day is observed by women offering gifts to men and this is reciprocated one month later on White Day. FabCafe invited a group of customers to make jellies by using a mould from their own 3D body scan to create the ultimate individual gift - the gift of themselves. romantic. Makes my knees go to jelly.

So should I eat the head or the feet first?

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Smear Campaign...

One of the to-dos on my early morning, bleary-eyed bus trips is checking out some of my favourite bloggers. It's an efficient and effective use of the 15 minute trip. I am not 'at my best' first thing and habitual early rising for work 'starts' over the years means I rarely sleep past 6am - so rigid routine is the only way to get me out of the house and engaging with the world at large at the hour of the sparrow's fart.

On Friday morning, I popped over to check out the goings on of fellow Aussie, The Vegemite Wife. Her caustic wit and antipodean observations of life here in the UK often have me nodding in agreement or chortling quietly  on the bus like a mad woman and even though we've never met (she lives somewhere 'up north'), I feel a certain kinship.

Her post last Friday gave a nod to an important anniversary: one year since she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It's not for me to share the details of this with you and I would suggest you read her update one year on to understand the context of her story. Needless to say, she's not one for wallowing in the 'tragedy' of it all and like any self-respecting Aussie, simply gets on with it. But her main point is this - she went without a Pap Smear for 15 years and when she finally 'got around to it', things were far more advanced than they would have otherwise been.

I have a wonderful friend that I have known my whole life. Literally. We are the same age - actually she's a day older - and from the neighbouring bed in the maternity ward, her Mum (of 3 children) was responsible for keeping my 'first-time' Mum just a little bit sane. Both the Mums and daughters share a special bond that defies our lack of proximity. And a few years back, this life-long friend of mine learned that she had cervical cancer.

I don't know what shocked me more - her diagnosis or the fact that this was a woman my age, an aware and pragmatic person who never seemed (to me anyway) to shirk life's personal responsibilities. The treatment she underwent was incredibly aggressive and while successful, gave her a new perspective on what she wanted and she chose to move to India as a more conducive environment for both her physical and spiritual recovery. (She has blogged about her experience and recovery here.)

It had been just 4 years between Pap Smears for Nathalie.

I have no doubt there are many other stories like this - it seems that cancer touches us all in some way, whether directly or by association. My purpose in writing about this today is in the hope that these two women - who face(d) this and have the courage to share their stories - will encourage some heads out of the sand and a flurry of female footsteps treading paths to local clinics for regular Smear tests.

It's summed up perfectly by my fellow Aussie up north...

Don’t be a twat like me and leave it .. to have a Pap smear. Do it now.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Double Digits And Drowsy Daffs...

If you've been speaking recently to anyone living in the UK, you will know that we have felt the grip of winter's chilly fingers well beyond the 'start' of Spring. Night-time temperatures have dipped below 0C for far longer than usual and the days have nipped at the noses, fingers and toes of anyone daring venture into the outdoors.

But last weekend, things shifted. The sun appeared, the mercury climbed into the mid-teens and I found myself moving to the patio at Gidday HQ to breakfast, read the paper, paint my paws toenails and anything else I could think to do that meant I could stay in the warm mellow sunshine.

The days are getting longer too (I mean versus the night, not that we are getting more than our requisite 24 hours). In the last week I have walked from the office to the train station three times, a wonderful 15-20 minute respite in the fresh air dividing the frantic busy-ness of the office and the cocooning commute of the train. 

The best bit is that Spring colour is starting emerge. There have been signs of spring here and there but it would seem that the week of double digit temperatures has opened the 'blooming' floodgates (geddit? blooming...did you like what I did there?) and the tree out the front of Gidday HQ has burst forth in a riot of delicate pink blossoms.

And the daffodils are out. Their yellow heads have lifted from their winter sleep to bob drowsily in the breeze, lining paths, meadows, gardens and even the main entrance to the office. The Metro has been filled with pictures of Wordsworth's host stretching across the Lake District in a golden sheet of colour - a sign of lighter, brighter days to come.

I have always loved daffs. They are such joyful, hopeful flowers and nothing makes me happier than a big vase of bobbing sunshine-y blooms. In Australia, they are in season around August and Mum always bought me a humungus bunch for my birthday so for me, there has always been a really strong association with family and happy times.

When I first arrived in the UK I was having a really difficult time, and I remember sitting on the bus, gazing out the window and quietly despairing about how I was going to keep getting up each day and build this 'new life' I'd crossed the world for. The bus rumbled over Kew Bridge and suddenly the view was filled with hundreds of dancing yellow daffodils splashed across the Green. My heart lifted, my resolve stiffened and in that moment I felt that somehow, things would all turn out.

So for all of you lovely Gidday-ers who enjoy my expat ramblings here at Gidday from the UK, you have a host of drowsy Spring daffs to thank. 

And every year, when those glorious golden trumpets appear again and toss their spritely heads, I remember that moment on the bus nine years ago when an unexpected burst of Spring gave me hope and I found the courage to keep building my dream.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Increased Liquidity...

I've gotten a bit behind on some of my emails recently. Travelling and work and pretty much life in general has meant that I have been a bit bereft of my daily dose of clever clogs. But I've been catching up today and have found something quite inspirational.

Across the ocean, in the birthplace of Paddington Bear (darkest Peru for those of you who don't know the story) lies a collaboration that has produced some liquid magic - a billboard that wrings moisture from the air and produces filtered drinking water.

Lima's water billboard
Image source:
The ideas was formed by partners UTEC and Mayo Publicity/DraftFCB who have blended engineering excellence and creative thinking to bring this life line to the people of Lima. Check out this video to see how clever they've really been...and what a difference they've really made.

It touched my heart to see the boy laughing at the sheer joy of tipping a bucket of cool, safe water over his head. Wonderful stuff.

In a world concerned about the increasing scarcity of life-giving resources like water, I couldn't help thinking how ingenious this was. It's worth pondering how it could be used all over the world.

And how much we take turning on the kitchen tap to fill a glass with fresh water for granted.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Travel Broadens The Mind...Globetrotting

I've been travelling this week peeps and being as I had to shut Audrey down for take off and landing, BA's business:life magazine got a pretty good going over. So I've found a whole lot of new travel trivia to broaden your mind/help you win your next pub quiz.

Let's start with the big picture.

It would seem that the economic climate has not done anything to significantly dampen our wanderlust with the number of international tourists increasing by 4% last year to 1.035bn. Where they have been going, who knows. But I'll bet it's not to one of the world's ten most pessimistic nations, eight of which are in Europe.

Britain's youngsters are also doing their bit to boost the travel dollar with 78% of them having travelled abroad at least once and more than 38,000 of them flying out of Heathrow on BA unaccompanied last year. Perhaps they are off to see one or two of the 79% of British expats who have no intention of returning to the UK. Or perhaps a bit of fiscal squeezing - after all £26,500 is the average full-time salary in Britain - means that the precious little darlings are simply leaving Mummy and Daddy at home.

But let's think about some other possible reasons for fleeing England's green pastures grey dampness. Contrary to what you may be expecting, I'm not putting the weather at the top of the list although it's probably up there. But the Brits already love to moan about weather that's uncomfortable, inconvenient and inclement and quite frankly, need no futher encouragement.

No, it would appear that there may be a darker tale to be told. 

It would seem that 53% of UK employees think it is OK to steal confidential corporate data - I'll bet you anything you like that their employers are a little less accepting. But as 68% of UK private sector employees are not members of a workplace retirement scheme, I'll leave you to do the maths on what the benefits of such information-gathering may bring and how all those English expats can afford to stay abroad.

So what else could one do with a few extra quid? Well, you could book yourself in to a Moscow hotel room - you'll find the most expensive rooms in the world there - or treat yourself to a little nip and tuck and become just another one of the 15 million people around the world having plastic surgery (or they were in 2011 anyway).

But if you are not inclined to such corporate indiscretion, you may well have been exposed in other ways, finding yourself on someone's social media feed, the focal point of a work Christmas 'do' montage. You'd be in the minority though as only 11% of British workers have had embarrassing photos taken of them at a work event and uploaded to a social media site.

London's Lord Mayor Boris Johnson 'hanging around'.
In the meantime, it would seem that while the rest of the world embraces the wonders of modern technology (did you know that 75% of the world's heads of state are on Twitter), the French remain firmly rooted in the antiquated traditonal: 46 cheques are issued per person per year in France compared with the average across all 17 EC members states being two. Vive la penmanship!

And just when you thought, after roaming the world botoxed and sans parents, you'd return to the comfortable and familiar, it's all change back in Ol' Blighty with Polish officially becoming Britain's second language.

It leaves me wondering how 'cor blimey guv'nor' translates...

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

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Halls Of Power...

Here I am on the last of my 5 day Easter staycation and today has been a committed pyjama day. I've lazed about with Audrey for a bit, been inspired by a couple of episodes of The Great British Bake Off Series 1 (the series I missed!) and am starting to prepare for a work trip tomorrow with a bit of feel-good Whoopi Goldberg (in Sister Act II) in the background.

Quite frankly, it's a rather fab way to finish things.

But the long weekend has not been spent in a haze of nothing-ness and sloth. I've caught up with friends, been for a flotation tank session, and added a couple of newly discovered gems to my figurative album of London Love. I wrote about my dip into Camden Market in my last post and on Saturday I immersed myself in another cultural melting pot with a tour of the Houses of Parliament.

As I walked through security and emerged on the other side of those black iron gates, I felt a little frisson of excitement. I was soon to learn that entry to the Palace of Westminster is not restricted to those on tours but I felt the sense of history and importance enfold me in its gothic embrace all the same.

Taken from the entrance to Westminster Hall
The tour was absolutely amazing. Meeting our guide in the magnificent Westminster Hall, we headed up the stairs and along the corridors to start our story in the Norman Porch right at the top of the stairs where the Queen herself enters each year for the State Opening of Parliament. 75 minutes of anecdotes, architecture and atmosphere later we left the Commons Chamber and headed back to Westminster Hall to be surrounded by King William Rufus' 6ft thick walls from 1097, the place where it all began.

Westminster Hall looking back towards the entrance.
For the first half of the tour, we scuttled along behind our tour guide in the footsteps of our sovereign, from the top of the stairs under the Norman Porch through the Queen's Robing Room, down the Royal Gallery and into the Lords Chamber. We stopped to marvel at the copy of the Magna Carta and the death warrant of Charles II and gazed at the massive portraits of the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo in the Royal Gallery.

The Lords Chamber was quite spectacular. The throne is the piece d'resistance, covered with gold and filigree and is in stark contrast to the Woolpack in front of it, the seat of The Lord Speaker and a homage to the importance of wool in Britain's economic past. 

It was also under the Lords Chamber that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled. The plot was aimed at killing the Catholic sovereign King James I by blowing up the Palace during the Opening of Parliament in 1605. A ceremonial check is still carried out as part of the State Opening preparations to ensure that no gunpowder lies beneath the Palace and the plot's failure is celebrated each year on November 5th with effigies of the captured traitor Guy Fawkes burnt on bonfires around the country.

Illustration by George Cruikshank in 1840 - source: Wikipedia
After an explanation on the ceremony surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and a tally of the roles of the various types of Lords, we were off again, down the Peers Corridor, towards the Central Lobby.

Did you know that the word 'lobbying' was first coined to reflect the activity in this space? It's the place where any voter can enter and request to speak to their Member of Parliament via the Reception Desk located there - members who are present in the 'House' are obliged to come to the Central Lobby to meet their constituent who 'lobbies' them although it might pay to check that they are 'in' before traipsing down to Westminster and being subjected to security screening.

A hurried scamper down the Commons Corridor brought us to the Members' Lobby, a working space for the parliamentarians complete with electronic message board and four rather formidable statues of Britain's former Prime Ministers - Clement Atlee, Winston Churchill, David Lloyd-George and Margaret Thatcher. And this segues nicely into our next stop and the penultimate section of the tour - the Commons Chamber.

The House of Commons is comprised of our Members of Parliament (MPs) who are elected by voters in their respective constituencies. This is where David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Milliband and their ministers meet to debate the issues of the day, initiating and amending laws (called Bills) which pass to and from the Houses of Lords and Commons through quite a series of checks and balances before coming into legislation.

Voting in the Houses is also very transparent with the positions of the Members shown by their physical movement out of the Chamber into two neighbouring passages known as the Yes and No Lobbies. (In the case of the Lords, these are the corridors of Content or Not Content).

Finally we found ourselves back in Westminster Hall. The hall has served many purposes in its 1000 year history including housing the Law Courts, hosting famous speakers like Nelson Mandela and Pope Benedict XVI, the first visit by a Pope since the Reformation in the 16th Century, and the laying in state of the Queen Mother following her death in August 2009.

Britain's links to the rest of the world were laid bare in the entertaining story-telling of our guide, Isabel and with my head crammed full of fascinating facts and anecdotes, I was glad that I'd decided to invest in the official guidebook so that I could revisit our political past in far more detail and at my leisure.

With the tour over, it was time to brave the chill outside again and with my guidebook tucked firmly under my arm, I couldn't wait to get on the tube and lose myself between the covers. Certainly when I next emerge from Westminster tube station - to be greeted by Big Ben and the gothic spires of the palace - it will hold a whole new meaning for me and getting in to Question Time might just be next on my To-Do List of London.

  1. Unfortunately, there are no photos permitted once the tour leaves Westminster Hall but there is an official flickr site if you'd like to see more. 
  2. I've also reviewed the Tour on Weekend Notes so for a slighty different perspective (as well as information on costs and opening times), click here.