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 😛

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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?

Job dating

When I met my guy, I thought the whole dating thing would be over.  Never again the doubt, the fear or the soul-sucking feeling that you’re the only sad, lonely loser person around.

Alas, I forgot how similar job hunting was.

Meeting someone

First, you trawl the posh places, looking for the guy job of your dreams.  This only lasts for as long as your confidence holds out.  Soon, you start listening to your inner fear: you won’t ever find it and you’re not getting any younger you know.  Then the internal negotiating starts.  Perhaps your expectations are too high.  Are you thinking overmuch of yourself?  Maybe a ‘job for now’ will do – you kid yourself that you’re still looking for the job of your dreams but, lets face it, you’ve already resigned to settling.  Without a support group, you’re only a bottle and two chocolate bars away from considering just how bad those call centre marketing jobs could be… 

Waiting for that call

You meet.  You like what you see.  You give them your number.   They might even promise to call.  Hope flares.   Maybe it will work out ok after all.  You wait.  And wait.  And wait.  You don’t stray more than jumping distance away from the phone.  You start taking your mobile with you everywhere – everywhere.   You check your emails every 20 minutes.  You start to panic about whether you gave the right number.  You start harbouring suspicions that your internet provider has done something drastically, drastically wrong with your connection.  

The date

They contact you.  You’ve gotten through the first cull that are deemed worthy of a call back.  They’ve been overwhelmed with responses, they’re trying to pull together a shortlist.  They want to discuss your resume.  Just a casual chat – but you’re being judged on every word you say.  So you do this interview that’s not an interview.  You pull out all your best experience.  You’re witty, charming and professional.  You’re doing the verbal equivalents of a LBD and killer heels.  They cannot resist.  He They seem to be buying it impressed.  They’ll get back to you.  

The second date?

You hang up feeling completely confident.  The next day, you’re a nervous wreck.  You’ve replayed every sentence, every nuance of reaction.  You’re a fool – fool! – for thinking that they might actually like you.  You resist the urge to call.  To ‘follow up’.  Doesn’t everyone say you should play hard to get?  You’re a strong, confident woman.  They would be lucky to have you.  You reach for a bag to stop from hyperventilating.  You consider getting a cream for the stress rash.

Honestly, if job dating doesn’t make you feel exactly like a love junkie then I’ll eat my hat (it’s a fabulous new hat, too, that I got as a little present for myself).  

Right now, I’m waiting to see whether I’ve made the shortlist for three jobs after some promising signals.  In the meantime, I have a temp job starting Friday, which is great news.  It will only be a week and a half but it’s better than nothing!

Breakfast of kings

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That there (^^) is a very fine breakfast: toast with vegemite and cheese, with a glass of milk.

For everyone: the ‘cheese thing’ explained

So my family has a cheese ‘thing’.  We like it and we put it on everything, with toast.  Vegemite and cheese is a pretty common combo in Oz, but my family doesn’t stop there.  Peanut butter and cheese on toast (or sandwich): try it.  It’s delicious.  Jam and cheese on toast: try it, it’s even more delicious.  Leftover spaghetti bolognaise on toast with some cheese sprinkled on top: *DROOL* (also, clearly I’m not carb-phobic).

At first, I thought all this was totally normal.  Until I started getting out in the world and people would regard my jam and cheese toast with horror.  What is that?  Why?  Ewww!  I can’t understand it myself.  My grandfather’s favourite is damper (like a really big scone) with butter, golden syrup and cheese.

I consulted my mother about the fact that no one else seems to do these cheese combos and she confirmed we were crazy: “don’t look at me, it’s your father’s thing.”  My dad has passed on so I consulted my grandfather.  He just shrugged, “dunno.  It just tastes good.”  I have an old card sent by my great-grandfather from the Great War to his family and he mentions jam and cheese on bread, so clearly this is an obsession that goes way back (also, only in my family would food be the primary topic of discussion amidst a warzone).

For non-Australians: the ‘vegemite thing’ explained

Ok, so pretty much everyone knows about vegemite – the only confusion seems to be why.  “Why do you guys eat that stuff?”

Because it tastes good.  However, you do need to… educate your taste buds, shall we say.  For me, I’ve had vegemite literally since birth.  My mum would put a teaspoon in a bottle with warm water, shake it up and give it to me.  I apparently loved it and it’s incredibly good for you.  In fact, “vegemite soup” will cure whatever ails you.  Feeling run down?  Try it.  Feeling cold/fluey?  Try it.  Got a hangover?  Definitely try it.  Only don’t be a wuss and put a tablespoon in, not a teaspoon.

Vegemite is a vegetable yeast extract and the taste is hard to describe… it’s deep, sort of meaty but that gives you the wrong idea as there’s no meat in it.  It just has that sort of depth and quality.  It’s very salty, so much so that you can add it in soups and stews as a stockcube replacement.  It’s flavour is very robust and, for this reason, it’s important to only lightly scrape it on toast that’s been buttered, particularly if you’re a vegemite virgin.  Ease yourself into it, young padawan.

It’s well worth giving a go.  Need further convincing?  My dad always said “it’ll put hairs on your chest!”.  I’m not sure if that’s its best unique selling point but, hey, it might work for you.

It’s election day in America…

…and, on behalf of the rest of the world, we can’t wait until it’s over!  Even here in Australia, every bulletin update is on Romney this or Obama that.  We have news specials on it.  60-minutes style reports on it with Australian reporters traipsing across the wilds of backhills Florida trying to get the pulse of the people.

It’s not just been in the last couple of months as you build up to the election.  No, no, we Australians have been right there with you from the caucuses (caucusii?), to the Republican party Presidential nominee announcement and to binder-gate (since I’m a nerd, my favourite binder meme was this one):

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It cracks me up every time.  Sean Bean is brilliant.  But I digress…

It’s not just us Aussies – I’ve been in the UK for over 4 years and the election has been heavily covered there too.

The world is watching every minute detail of this election and, frankly, I think we’re all sick to death of it. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for Americans.

I guess the reason why a national election is international news is due to America’s huge influence on the world.  And George W. Bush was so colossally bad that, since then, everyone has been extra-invested in having a relatively normal human being with his finger on the trigger, so to speak (by contrast, in Australia the only criteria we have is that our prime ministers try not to bore everyone to death).

As an Australian, I can also see the immense cultural influence America has had on Australia.  Our TV dramas and comedies are about 60% US-origin, 20% Australian and 20% British.  On the music charts, I’d say songs by American artists make up at least 40-50%, with Australian artists making up another 40% and the rest British.  Australian slang has not been unaffected either, although this is an area where American cultural influence has not been as strong.  I’ll say truck, not lorry (America 1, England 0) but then I’ll also say lift not elevator (England 1).  I’m also proud to say that slang unique to Australia is doing very well (dag, togs, refedex…).

What makes this more interesting to me is seeing how different the influence has been on British culture (which then leads me to ponder why).  If you get free-to-air TV in the UK, you’ll see very little in the way of US programs (exception being 5 USA, which specialises in it).  American slang has had very little impact on British slang – in fact, it’s a point of principle amongst Britons to avoid any vulgar “Americanisms” and, culturally, Jordan/Katie Price and WAGs have more impact on young British youth today than anything America has to offer.  In fact, the only piece of American culture British youths seem to have latched on to is gang culture, a deeply unfortunate turn of events.

I’m not sure why modern Australia seems to have been more influenced, culturally, by America rather than England.  We’re an ex-British colony, we still have the Queen as a head of state, the majority of Australians have British ancestry (although that’s quickly changing).  Until about the 1980s it was true that Australia was very much a ‘little Britain’ (excuse the pun).  Then, suddenly, it changed over night.  Maybe MTV had something to do with it.

So now we’re an odd mix here in Australia.  US customs and culture (Halloween is getting more popular every year, although we carve watermelons here rather than pumpkins given the season) sit with remnants of British culture (I still think it’s a majority of Australians who have a hot roast meal at Christmas, even though it’s 35 degrees outside… we just supplement it with cold glazed ham and prawns) and that rests in a melting pot with the ever-growing contributions of migrant communities.  In fact, as time goes on, I can see Australia is slowly turning more to Asia: economically, they’re a major purchaser of Australian goods, culturally they’ve transformed Australian cuisine (Asian fusion is something Australians specialise in) and demographically, Asian Australians form a significant part of the population.  Maybe it will be a Firefly future after all?