Life happens… where to begin

It’s been a busy week – finishing off my temp assignment, going to interviews, pondering the many pitfalls of a long-distance relationship and, oh yeah, I have baby eggplants that have appeared.

Where to start.

The interviews were positive – two of them were just agency interviews, which is usually a whole lot of hoo-hah and not much else.  However both these agencies had actual roles that they wanted to put me forward for, which makes them better than average.  In better news, though, I got a call back from a law firm I applied to directly who had a paralegal job going.  It was a great interview (there’s an oxymoron) and I left feeling very positive about it – and really, really wanting to work there if only to use their subsidised in-house masseuse (oh the luxury…).  Anyway, I got a call back this morning asking me to meet with the partner of the practice division I’d be working in if I got the job.  It’s all set for tomorrow morning.

Of course, life wouldn’t be life if everything was going absolutely according to plan.  My other half is still in the UK, coming to grips with the idea that life in Australia is a) better than England and b) better than England.  Going from living together and being in each other’s hip pocket to Skype calls is a huge challenge, not least because I have no idea if he’s even coming out – and he’s been thinking it over for almost a year now.  He can be as intractable as… something intractable… and no amount of evidence, logic, cajoling, pleading, threatening or any other action seems to have any effect on him making a decision.  It’s maddening and not altogether confidence-inspiring.

In lighter news, however, I’m the mother of brand-new baby eggplants.  They are the absolute apple of my eye:

Also, CAPSICUMS:

In our next installment, Australian beaches: a study.  Plus either a really positive post about how great a decision is was to move out to Australia because I’ve got that job and everything is all falling into place… or a post about how you can never count on things turning out the way you thought they would 😛

Glam metal Mondays: Pour Some Sugar On Me

Have you noticed how many great rock bands are English?  I always knew the obvious ones (The Rolling Stones, Beatles… if you can call them rock, etc) but there are so many 80s bands (pop and rock) that I assumed were American (because isn’t everything?) only to very lately discover they’re English.  Def Leppard is one of them and, like many of these English rock bands, hail from England’s North.

(Maybe everyone knows this and I’m the only one who’s clueless here but it was a bit of a revelation.)

This is an absolute classic rock song that you can’t help but singalong to.  Before we get to it, though, lets consult our glam metal checklist:

  • Big hair?  Check
  • Relaxed man-perms?  Check
  • Catchy hook?  Oh yes

Can’t say I approve of the bogan jeans look, although Rick and Steve are making a valiant, stylish 80s effort.  Anyway, who can criticise the band with the Thunder God (even if he is wearing shorty shorts)?  Certainly not me.  Also, special shout out to Joe Elliott’s massive mullet.  Not quite a Billy Ray, but impressive nonetheless.

This started out as a post about parties but ended up being about food

I really do think with my stomach.

Today at my (temp) office, they had a morning tea to celebrate the birthdays of all their employees born in November.

In England, when offices do something like this, it will always be sweet – probably a box of Krispy Kremes and a chocolate mud cake.

In Australia, you’ll still get a cake but a party ain’t a party and a morning tea ain’t a morning tea unless there’s a pie in there somewhere.  In fact, we even have a version of pie called ‘party pies’ (more on this later).

So, as I was scoffing the the party pies and the sausage rolls, I got thinking about food.  Not surprising.  I think about food all the time.  At breakfast, I’m imagining lunch and dinner.  At dinner, I’m remembering yesterday’s breakfast and planning tomorrow’s.

By rights, I should probably be about 100kg and rolling everywhere.  My brother is a personal trainer and he thinks I put away a lot of food for a girl (I protest this greatly – I’m a normal size!  But he might be right).  I think my saving grace is that, due to my father’s fatal heart attack before he was 50, I’ve been very aware of healthy eating (the occasional pie and sausage roll notwithstanding).  So, I may eat a lot but it’s not rubbish and the bike takes care of the rest.

Anyway, I’m getting way off track here.  I got thinking about food and Australian food in particular.  As a nation of (mostly) immigrants, we don’t really have a native cuisine like they do in, say, Italy or Greece.  Or so I thought.

It was only when I was in England that I started noticing that they didn’t sell the foods I was used to… and in many cases, hadn’t even heard of it.

So I present to you:

AUSTRALIA’S nATIVE FOODS

(Small ‘n’ since native is a bit of a misnomer – however, as I’m not up on Aboriginal food cuisine, it will have to do)

  • The party pie.  It’s a pie.  It’s small.  It’s perfet for parties.  Simple, really.  Australia has a real pie culture and, if you want a definitively good pie and find youself in south-east Queensland, then may I suggest Yatala Pies.  I never go to the coast without a pit stop and I’m pretty sure everyone else in Queensland does the same thing.
  • Cheerios.  No, not the cereal, which we don’t have here.  Instead, I’m talking about mini frankfurters.  The link takes you to a pic of them (scroll down a bit – thanks Google Image search).  Found at every Aussie child’s birthday since time immemorial and always served with tomato sauce.  One of my favourite memories as a child was when we visited the butcher and he gave me one for free.  Score!
  • Rissoles.  Like a burger patty, only not.  Basically, it’s mince mixed with various flavourings (onion, garlic, herbs, Worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce, etc), an egg (to bind) and breadcrumbs.  My mum swaps breadcrumbs for rolled oats – it’s healthier and makes the meat go further.  Always served with gravy on top and mashed potatoes and green veggies on the side.
  • Corned beef.  Ok, I know you have it in America but in England they don’t eat it (except for tinned corned beef, an inedible abomination which is definitely not what I’m talking about).  The exception is the English Jewish community, but they call it salt beef (and I say this with some authority since I had a big long discussion about it with my old boss who is Jewish.  See, I even talk food at work).  In Australia, we boil the corned beef in water with vinegar, sugar, bay leaves and a clove-studded onion.  Always served with white sauce, boiled potatoes, pumpkin and greens.
  • Pumpkin.  And I don’t just mean Butternut Squash.  Pumpkin is not eaten in the UK (asides from Butternuts) and, in my few visits to the States, I never noticed it there either.  Pumpkin is HUGE in Australia.  Every supermarket will have at least three or four varieties: Jap (aka Kent), Queensland Blue and Golden Nugget.  Australians boil, mash and roast pumpkin and the skin on many varieties is edible (Butternut skin is lovely).  The flesh is thick, very smooth and creamy and tastes sweet.
  • Lollies.  In the UK, ‘lollies’ means lollipops.  In Australia, it means soft, chewy deliciousness.  Like gummi only not rubbery.  There are raspberries, strawberries and cream, pineapples, mintiesjelly babies, snakes, killer pythons (snakes only bigger and thicker), teeth, milk bottles, chico babies, mint leaves…  The list goes on.
  • Vegemite.  This is an obvious one and something I’ve blogged about before.
  • Lamingtons.  Basically pound cake cut into squares, dipped in chocolate icing and rolled in dessicated coconut.  Variations include cream filled and jam/cream filled.
  • Damper.  Like a really big scone.  Reputation as ‘bush tucker’ food since you can make it on a camp stove/over a fire.
  • Anzac biscuits.  A biscuit (cookie) primarily made out of oats and golden syrup.  So named (I think) because they were sent to ANZAC soldiers (Australian & New Zealand Army Corps) during both World Wars – they keep very well.  Recipe here.
  • Cheezels.  Delicious snack that can only be eaten one way: you must put a cheezel on each finger (like a ring) and eat them off.  I’ve been doing it that way since I was 4.
  • Lemon myrtle.  Ok, now we’re getting properly native.  This is a native shrub with the leaves used for (you guessed it) lemony flavour.  Often bought as a spice mix or part of a spice rub.  Rub chicken in it!
  • Barramundi.  A native fish – incredibly popular and delicious.  A recipe here.
  • Moreton Bay bugs.  A native lobster.  They look like they’re from an alien planet but, I’m told, are great eating (I’m not really into lobster, so I’ll have to take my countrymen’s words on it).  Easy recipe on how to use them here.
  • Beetroot.  Not unusual around the world but here in Australia we put it on burgers and sandwiches.  Top tip if you’re putting it on your kid’s salad sandwich for lunch: blot with kitchen paper.  It saves a whole lot of soggy pink bread.

Oh Australia – I’m so glad I’m home!

So if 42 is the meaning of life, what does that mean?

My good friend The Flat-Footed Adventurer recently wrote a very thought-provoking post that asked some very big questions.  I’m in no position to answer any of them but thought I’d add my voice to the questioning, too.

Adventurer was talking about faith, free will (or lack thereof) and, basically, whether anything means anything.  I hear you, buddy.  Human existence and our understanding of it seems – ultimately – to be reduced to a belief in some variety of godly oversight and/or a handful of time-worn statements such as ‘it never rains everyday’ or ‘when one door closes another one opens’ and lets not forget that old faithful ‘God works in mysterious ways’.  Dress it up in as many philosophies as you want but basically it boils down to the thought of, “boy, today sucked – hopefully that means tomorrow won’t”.  I guess that makes us, as a species, perennial optimists (who knew?!).

Recently, humans have been infected by the idea that only a lack of enough positive thinking (self-actualisation? focussed goal realisation? whatever the new buzzwords are?) stops us from having Everything That We Want.  It’s a seductive philosophy – power, free will, choice, having it all.  In fact, I loosely subscribe to this kind of thinking.  However, it also presents two problems:

  1. we actually have to figure out what it is that we want (not as easy as it sounds), and;
  2. how to manage the confusion when we don’t get it.  Were we not wishing hard enough?  Not focussed enough?  Not choosing the right goal in the first place?

I spend a lot of time thinking about these things and why life is the way that it is.  Mostly because I’m just arrogant enough to think I’m only an insight away from Getting It (and then global domination will be mine! Mwah-hah!).  Of course, if you ask me, I’ll  protest that I have no idea how life, the universe and everything works.  But, deep down, I suspect my psyche is working under the assumption that if I just think about something hard enough, get enough information on it, mull over it long enough, the mystery will be revealed and I’ll succeed.  I use this approach in all aspects of my life (resulting in chronic worrying), so why should existence itself be any different?

It’s only as I get older that I’m starting to relax with it all.  Not relaxing as much as I’d like – maybe even as much as I should – but certainly letting go of the reins a little, as bitter-tasting as that is for control freaks like me.  The reasons are threefold (and this gives me an excellent opportunity to use more bullet points, which I do so enjoy):

  1. It’s exhausting.  Trying to figure everything out?  Not possible, babe.  Trying to anticipate everything?  Plan for it?  Pre-emptively work out how you might react to something?  Please.  Unless I work out the secrets of time travel (which I presumably do not because I know Future Me would have visited Present Me by now if she had), then it’s a big waste of time.  Not to mention, you can’t prepare for what you don’t know that you don’t know.  You know?
  2. It’s self-defeating.  By trying to work everything out, I’m expecting – hoping – that it prepares me for every opportunity and, therefore, makes me more likely to have opportunities (and succeed).  I’m growing to realise that it doesn’t seem to work like that.  For some people it might but, for me, what tends to happen is that I think about an opportunity/goal I might like.  I then think of what I need to do to get there.  I then get bogged down in small details and anticipated problems like how I would be able to pay for this course or that hobby or where I would get the time.  I then get disillusioned and despondently think that it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway and then I put the idea away.  So, not only does this stop me from achieving my stated goals but, while I’m all-consumed with the process, I’m actually closed off to anything else that might come along.  Less likely to take a chance on something left field.
  3. It’s actually ok not to be perfect at everything, including life.  For perfectionists like me, that statement is anathema.  Even today, I read Adventurer’s post and rather than sympathising (although I did), I wanted to answer his questions.  To solve the problem.  To give that winning piece of advice that would get everything to make sense.  But, actually, I have no idea what the answers are.  There are so many contradictions in life.

So what’s the point of this all then?  No point, just another person trying to figure it all out.  Who’s trying not to compare herself to others, who tries to make the best decisions with the best information and resources available at the time, who tries not to regret past decisions (because she did the best she could with the information and resources available at the time) and who strives to be positive about the future.  Because the only alternative is to be sceptical about the future and I least know that path doesn’t lead to happiness 🙂

Update: I have stumbled on a very worthy and relevant post by Eclectic Camel, which has some great advice/insights.

Secondary update: You could also take Melbourne Metro’s approach to risk management, which is completely hilarious (PS this is a genuine, officially-sanctioned safety video from Melbourne Metro on how dangerous trains are.  Lesson I learned?  I may suck at life sometimes but even I ain’t that dumb!):

Noguiltever

I’ve been watching the Facebook feed of one of my friends who declared November to be ‘Noguiltvember’ – an international month of amnesty to admit to all those truly tragic songs that you secretly love.

These are the songs that you sing in the shower when you think no one can hear you.  They’re also the songs that have a high hit rate for karaoke-goers because everyone knows that karaoke works best when you’re belting out daggy 80s power ballads.  The more akin you sound to a wailing cat, the better, since karaoke has nothing to do with good singing and everything to do with childhood sentiment and lots and lots of alcohol.

There’s been some cracking nominations for shameful, secret song-crushes this month:

– Songs by the Glee cast

– Songs by Gwyneth Paltrow

– Songs by New Kids on the Block (I have to admit, that one was me)

– Songs by Miami Sound Machine

And, my personal favourite nomination, Everlasting Love by Rex Smith and Rachel Sweet:

But why should we limit this to only one month?  Why not Noguiltever, instead of Noguiltvember!  And why only music?  I’m breaking the shackles of convention and declaring:

  • I know all the words to ‘Part Of Your World’ from The Little Mermaid.  And you can tell if I’ve had a few too many drinks because that’s my go-to song as I unsteadily make my way home.
  • I think the Lord of the Rings movies were better than the books.  There I said it.  They basically cut out all of Tolkein’s self-indulgent, waffly descriptive paragraphs that went on for ever and ever (and ever) and got straight to the good bits.
  • Duets was a good movie.
  • I liked Grease 2.  I cannot believe I’m admitting this publicly but ‘Cool Rider’ is a brilliant song.  [resisting urge to delete…]
  • I’m a creature of habit, mostly because I get nervous doing something new – even if it’s something as basic as walking a different way to work.  This is patently ridiculous and part of the reason why I moved to the UK – to really do something different!  But, even after the big bad city, I was still nervous today when I walked into a street market I’ve never been before (and being pleasantly surprised).
  • Clubbing: it’s overrated.
  • I know Captain Kirk is supposed to be the ultimate Star Trek captain but, frankly, I think Janeway nailed it.
  • Men are sometimes right.  The Guy is more often right than wrong, damnit.  So annoying.
  • I read the Daily Mail (a UK conservative tabloid newspaper – I know I should read something appropriately left(ier) like The Guardian but they’re so pompous).
  • I actually like trashy romance novels, especially the sci-fi/romance ones.  I have no intention of ever reading Dostoyevsky.
  • If no one was looking and I weren’t feeling like I was having a fat day, I could and would eat a whole jumbo bag of corn chips.  In the same vein, I have eaten an entire family block size of chocolate to myself.

Oh man, it feels good to get all that off my chest!

Tropical thunder

Can you miss weather?  Oddly, the weather I missed the most in England wasn’t sunshine (although I did miss it a lot).  It was the thunderstorms I missed the most.

Traditionally, most Queensland homes had corrugated iron rooves and to this day I love the sound of rain on a ‘tin’ roof (in fact, having a tiled roof like at my mother’s is disappointingly soundproofed and singlehandedly put me off it).

Nature, obviously hearing my cry, has endeavoured to fix my thunder cravings by unleashing a number of super storms on south-east Queensland – and I was caught very much in the middle of it yesterday afternoon.

It started on Saturday with superstorm 1 – it came through our suburb in the morning and ended up causing uprooted trees, fairly major flash flooding and widespread havoc in inner-Brisbane.  Apparently the Bureau of Meteorology logged 1000 lightning strikes in the first 30 minutes.

Saturday evening saw more rain, more thunder and more lightning.  What’s great about a tropical thunderstorm is you don’t need to see it to know it’s coming – you can hear it and feel it.  You’re sitting in the lounge with all windows and doors thrown open – the air is slow and sticky (“muggy”) and the Christmas beetles are buzzing aggressively against the flyscreens, trying to immolate themselves on your lamps.

The cicadas sound like mini lawnmowers as they hum outside and you can hear the occasional squawk of a bird and ribbit of a green tree frog.

Suddenly, you feel a breath of fresh air – it’s pungent with earth and green, growing things; like a hothouse, only cool and crisp.  You hear the wind pick up – it’s gusty and ruffling the palm trees.  Things start jangling outside: windchimes and various hanging ephemera.  They sound urgently unhappy, which belies the very relaxed, distant roll of thunder.  This is my favourite part – when the wind picks up, it’s like adventure is around the corner.

At this point, we’ll normally know if it’s a big storm or not due to warnings, so this is our cue to get out the torches, candles and matches.

I love watching a storm coming in (even in the dark), so I’ll often head outside – watch the sheet lightning and the occasional bolts, and count the seconds until the thunder bellows through.

The rain picks up and goes from softly pattering to violent splattering – pounding against the glass while huge rivers gush from the drain pipes.  I wait until it’s almost on top of us – lightning strike, count 1, 2 – CLAP!  Heavy thunder.  Then a sense of self-preservation asserts itself and I watch from behind the windows.

They rarely last long – the entire process can start and finish within 30 minutes.

Sometimes, they can move even faster and yesterday was such a one, only I was out in the car in the middle of the highway.  Mum and I could see the storm front moving in – it looked really nasty, with a green tinge that means hail:

We estimated we had about 10-15 minutes to get home before it hit.  About 45 seconds after this photo was taken, it unleashed itself upon us.  The driving rain reduced the visibility to virtually zero and then the huge gusts of wind and pelting hail made us pull over to the side of the highway:

We ended up ‘bunny-hopping’ home – driving 50m or so, then realising the visibility got worse every time we tried, stopping, then trying again a few minutes later.  Soon, the highway shoulder was crowded with other cars deciding it was too dangerous to drive:

We did get home eventually and the storm was a lot more fun after we were safely indoors!

We’re back to sunny and mid 30s today – the garden is absolutely loving it and I’m hanging out for my next storm 🙂

Stealth office shots for the insatiably curious

So, started the new temp job on Friday.  A huge improvement on the last first day.  These people were normal for a start and actually had a reception desk at the front door!

The job is all straightforward PA-type stuff so I won’t bore you with the details but I couldn’t resist taking some stealth shots of the office.  I’ve been in London office blocks for so long, I forgot what some Queensland offices can offer.

In my old London office, we had floor-to-ceiling glass windows, open-plan desks in rows (sort of like a cafeteria I guess) and, if I craned my neck, I could just see the London Eye.

Behold, my temporary Brisbane office:

The outside, open-air deck, framed with lovely leafiness.  Perfect for sandwich lunching.  

The massive staff kitchen, complete with tropical fish tank (which is dangerously distracting)

The office ‘bridge’, complete with bistro tables (the office is straddled across two buildings with an open-air – but under cover – bridge linking the two)

Street view from the bridge

In London, the closest thing I got to fresh air was the 5 minute walk between the Tube and the office.  By contrast, sitting on a Friday afternoon, eating your lunch while a soft tropical breeze floats past you and the birds twitter is… a very nice change.

Also, while we’re drawing comparisons, I’m curious as to how London and Australia compare with each and with the world.  For instance:

London:

  • 35,000 pounds is a good, average wage for someone in office admin.
  • Rent varies but you wouldn’t see much change out of 1200 pounds a month for a 1 bedroom flat that’s within a couple of zones of the City (unless you’re living in a dodgy area).
  • I could do a weekly shop for two people for 50 pounds but this didn’t include meat as my Guy is pescetarian and I figured I could definitely cut down on the red meat so I followed a similar diet.
  • Your wage is paid directly into your nominated bank account once a month.
  • 5 weeks holiday is standard with all permanent jobs.
  •  The hours for all my jobs has been 9am-5pm with a 1 hour lunch break – some people work 9-5.30, or 8.30-5.
  • All current pension plans are an 8% (roughly) contribution of your annual wage made by your employer (over and above your wage) into an investment account with a pension provider.  The pension provider invests these funds – there is no guaranteed income/amount of money at your retirement (you’re at the mercy of the markets, like with any stockmarket share).  In addition to the funds you’ll receive at your retirement from your work “pension”, the state also pays a pension to all people of retirement age.
  • All healthcare is free (all citizens pay a tax throughout their working life – deducted from their monthly wage – that contributes to the National Health Service).
  • All medicines issued by your doctor are paid at a flat rate – no matter what the real cost of the medicine you only pay the set rate (which is about 10 pounds I think?).  Unless the medicine you need is not on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS), in which case you pay the market rate (this would be fairly rare though).
  • Maternity-leave must be provided by all businesses (unless they’re a small business owner, I think).  Most businesses offer 3 months paid maternity leave full-pay and then an additional 3-6 months maternity leave at reduced pay.  Businesses are obliged to give your old job to you once you return (however, depending on the length of your maternity leave, your employers can give you an equivalent job at the same rate of pay rather than the exact same job).  Women have the right to demand flexible working hours upon their return.
  • Base income tax rate is 20% for wages up to 34,000 pounds, 40% from 34,000-150,000 pounds and 50% for income above 150,000

Brisbane:

  • 65,000 dollars is a good, average wage for someone in office admin.
  • Rent varies but I’m currently looking at flats in inner-city Brisbane that are 400 dollars per week (1 and 2 bedroom flats with very large balconies that are intended to be outdoor living space. If you go out into the suburbs, you can get a 3 bedroom house for the same amount).
  • 4 years ago, I used to be able to do a weekly shop for one person for 100 dollars – with meat.  I suspect this will have increased somewhat.
  • Your wage is paid directly into your nominated bank account once a fortnight (2 weeks).
  • 4 weeks holiday is standard with all permanent jobs.
  • Standard hours for office admin are 9am-5.30pm, with a 1 hour lunch break.  However, some people start at 8/8.30am and finish 4.30/5/5.30pm.
  • All current pension plans (called superannuation in Australia) are a 9% contribution of your annual wage made by your employer (over and above your wage) into an investment account with a superannuation provider.  The pension provider invests these funds – there is no guaranteed income/amount of money at your retirement (you’re at the mercy of the markets, like with any stockmarket share).  In addition to the funds you’ll receive at your retirement from your work “pension”, the state also pays a pension to all people of retirement age.
  • Healthcare is mostly free, however you have to pay a hefty penalty when you do your taxes if you do not have private health insurance.  Not all GPs ‘bulk bill’ (where they charge the government 100% of your bill and you pay nothing) – some make you pay up front and you get a portion of it back later when you claim it from the government (via Medicare).  If you need emergency care and go to hospital, it will be ALWAYS be free to you, even if you don’t have private health insurance.
  • Medicines vary in price – they are subsidised but not to the same degree in the UK.  You will pay different prices for your antibiotics, etc, depending on what you’re buying.
  • Maternity-leave was only recently introduced (in the last year or so) and businesses are not obliged to offer it.    If they don’t, the government offers paid maternity-leave in their stead.  Government paid maternity-leave is at the national minimum wage of 570 dollars per week.  Businesses tend not to offer paid maternity leave much beyond 6 weeks (I believe), however women can be on unpaid maternity leave for some months and have the right to demand flexible working hours upon their return (as well as their old job) so long as they’re back within 1 year.
  • Base income tax rate is 15% up to 37,000 dollars, 30% between 37,000 and 80,000 dollars, 37% between 80,000 and 180,000 dollars and 45% for income over 180,000 dollars.

How does this compare to where you are?