28 December 2007

Five months of Blogs!

"advised me to travel from Sydney to Ashfield (approx 15kms) via Broken Hill (approx 1,000kms). Naturally I took the short route...and, wait for it, bus spotting!!!"

At this time of the year most media outlets do a review of the past twelve months for their readers. Well, I thought, why shouldn't I do one too? After all, since I have started writing blogs I have had hits from 37 countries (latest one - Guatemala thanks Rak!). Also, it will act as a nice filler while I get around to writing my next 'proper' blog.

So without further ado, here is my blog review since I started writing them five months ago.

Back in July I started my blog life with an introduction of myself. It is always a great idea to let your audience know a few things about you, the writer. Having said this I am not sure what riveting snippets of information a reader would have gleaned from the twenty facts about myself.

July was also the time when I encountered my first bus ride to nowhere. For some reason the north western suburbs of Sydney can be daunting to get to if you want to catch bus number 610x! This was followed up by my description of my daughters DVD 'the Fairies' which contained Barnaby the Bizzy Buzzy Bee who seemed to be acted by a 96 year old who was missing his zimmer frame!

August came along and the weather got slightly warmer. This month really did have a travel feel to it. My second experience of the bus ride to nowhere lead me to Beaumont Hills, surely Sydney's answer to Stepford! This was followed up by an online direction website who advised me to travel from Sydney to Ashfield (approx 15kms) via Broken Hill (approx 1,000kms). Naturally I took the short route.

Springtime in September was dominated by APEC, as a number of world leaders came to Sydney to discuss economic matters, etc. However, my blogs gave a different version. I intimated that the world leaders were playing scrabulous on Facebook as well as Texas hold 'em poker. Also, the milk monster reared its ugly head for the first time as litres of the white liquid starting disappearing from my fridge. The month was capped off with a flight to London leaving from the non-existent departure gate A47!

For most of October I was in England for family reasons. Despite this I was able to write about the quirkiness of the English (including myself). This incorporated the English love of antique programmes, the weather, the national lottery and, wait for it, bus spotting!!! The last one truly baffled myself. Finally, I flew back from one of the worst airports in the world - Heathrow.

November started with myself suffering from jet lag and the milk monster still in fine form. I had to attend an introduction night for my eldest daughters school for next year. This proved quite an experience as all the parents had to relive their first day at school. Naturally, I couldn't remember anything! As the month started to get warmer so the smell of body odour got stronger. I covered this in one of the blogs also pointing out that all the air-con trains seem to disappear as the weather gets warmer. November was rounded off with a visit to Canberra and the discovery of a public toilet website for the whole of Australia!

So onto December. Early on I became a part owner of an English football club via an online website. All of a sudden I felt important. My $82 was money well spent. I then had an experience with a sleep pod in the city. The only problem with this was that the voice in my headphones kept me from sleeping! Next I was being asked to be the next (back of) head supermodel for an advertising campaign. Naturally I agreed to do this and am awaiting the photo shoot. Finally, my latest blog covered the trials and tribulations of the Secret Santa.

As you can see it's been a fun packed last five months. Feel free to scroll through my blog site to view these stories in their entirety plus a few I haven't mentioned.

Anyway, have a great New Year and I'll be back in 2008 with more fun adventures for you to read!

22 December 2007

Ssshh Secret Santa

"Once the email has been received there is no getting out of participating. It is very much compulsory participation by peer pressure!....I, for one, always break out into a cold sweat when my hand reaches into the hat for that folded piece of paper"

December is the time of year when office workers are faced with a serious challenge. Normally, it can lead to higher stress levels, and even major arguments. You see, it's all to do with a particular December deadline. You know which one I am on about - the Secret Santa (or Kris Kringle) present giving occasion!

In all honesty any work related, or year end deadlines, take second, or even third priority, when it comes to Secret Santa! For the uninitiated out there in Blogland, Secret Santa is where an office worker pulls a name of a co-worker out of a hat and then has to buy them a present up to a certain value. The 'Secret' part comes into it as you are not supposed to reveal who you have bought a present for.

What normally happens is that some bright spark in the office will wake up one November morning, put milk on his or her corn flakes and think to themselves "hmm. I'd better organise the Secret Santa". So off they trundle to work with a spring in their step and a smile on their face.

Meanwhile, all other work colleagues are patiently waiting for that email that will inform them of the Secret Santa guidelines - deadline date and maximum amount to be spent. Once the email has been received there is no getting out of participating. It is very much compulsory participation by peer pressure!

The next step is to pull a name out of a hat. Everyone prays that the name they pull out is one that is easy to buy for. The reason being is that you do not want to buy a present for a newcomer that you do not know, or the nerd who sits in the corner doing the accounts payable and who reads Superman magazines in their lunch break. I, for one, always break out into a cold sweat when my hand reaches into the hat for that folded piece of paper that will reveal my Secret Santa destiny!

Once you have pulled a name out of the hat you will then need to work out what to buy for them. For some it is fairly easy as you will probably know what to get them. The main question in these cases is whether to get a serious or funny present. However, if you do pull out the Accounts Payable nerd then you have a serious problem!

In these cases it has been known for office workers to wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat thinking about what to buy. Over the next few days the buyer of the present will be trying to work out what the office nerd wants. The best way of doing this is to put the nerd under office surveillance. This includes following them at lunchtime as they walk to the local shops. With pen and paper in hand copious notes can be taken as to an appropriate present.

The final thing to do, if you want to have a successful Secret Santa experience, is not to leave everything to the last minute. You will normally find that what you were going to buy as a present is no longer available. You will then be left between choosing the latest Celine Dion album or Elton John's biography!

At last the day arrives and the Secret Santa presents are given out. It is always interesting to see the looks on peoples faces as five office workers all end up with the same Celine Dion cd!!

Sometimes presents are bought with good intentions only for the recipient to accept them with trepidation. A good rule of thumb is to not buy a book that is wrapped in plastic unless you have seen its contents. This recently happened at our Secret Santa experience. Needless to say that the illustrations in this book were not of shoes as the cover sort of indicated!!!

So, always take care and have fun if you are going to have a Secret Santa function at work.

13 December 2007

Am I the next Head Supermodel??

"My reply was very affirmative "oh, cool" I said, wondering what was being planned....I could become the first 'back of the head' supermodel!"

If you are a regular visitor to my blog you will know that I work in the Sydney CBD. What you may not know is that I work out of two offices - lucky me! The main one is the head office which is situated in one of Sydney's tallest buildings. I refer to it as the 'Mothership' and this moniker has nothing to do with the excellent Led Zeppelin compilation of the same name.

The other office is much smaller and located near the north side of Darling Harbour. It's actually an office we share with an eco-friendly tourism company. While it lacks a lot of the facilities and city views of the Mother Ship, it suits our needs well. The staff from the tourism company are great ,and we all have a good time sharing the office, even though the air-con can be cold at times.

Well the other day I walked into the shared kitchen when the COO (Chief Operations Officer) of the tourism company spoke to me and said "Hi, would you please turn around as I need to look at the back of your head"

Now I have received some unusual requests in my time, including being asked to take part in an identity parade for a police case (I declined their warm hearted and kind offer, as I was on holiday at the time - sort of), but to be asked to show the back of my head seemed a tad strange. Naturally my reply was "yes, okay" .

The COO scrutinised my head for what seemed like ages, but in actual fact it was only a few seconds. He then said 'hmm...you will do" By now my mind was racing at the speed of light. What did he mean "you will do"? My reply was very affirmative "oh, cool" I said, wondering what was being planned for the back of my head.

"We want to use the back of your head for one of our photo shoots" said the COO. "huh" was my startled reply. What is he on about? Does he need to change his medication? was my second thought. By now he could see I was totally puzzled.

"Oh, sorry. I should have explained. We need someone of a certain age who is not going bald, and you fit the bill. Do you want to do the shoot?" Naturally I replied "yes" Fortunately my good crop of hair comes from my mothers side. I made a mental note to thank her the next time I rang home.

My mind immediately went into overdrive. Wow, this could be the start of something big. The back of my head will be seen by thousands of people in Australia, and maybe overseas! I could become the first 'back of the head' supermodel! Just think of all the parties that I could be invited to. I could be rubbing shoulders with Brad and Angelina very soon. Maybe I could do the chat show rounds too!

Time will tell if success finds its way to my feet. At present the photo shoot hasn't been arranged. However, I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, if you see any eco-tourism adverts just remember that one of the heads in it may be mine!

07 December 2007

Attack of the Sleep Pods!

"there was no staff around which seemed strange. Maybe they were eaten by the alien looking pods for brunch....I expected tentacles to come down from the ceiling of the pod and attach themselves to my head and suck out all of my memory and then eat my brain"

Working in the Sydney CBD can be a great experience. Even greater than watching Big Brother or Australian Idol on television, and much better than listening to your old Bros or Bon Jovi albums!

There are numerous cafĂ©’s, restaurants and drinking holes in this part of the city for us workers to frequent. Most of them offer a wide range of food and drinks for hungry and thirsty workers to try. Close by is the main shopping strip that revolves around Pitt Street Mall where workers can shop ‘til they drop during their lunch break.

Anyway, one of my co-workers, Caramel – author of the mighty
mentioned that there is a place in Sydney where workers can have a have a twenty minute nap in a sleep pod. Best of all it is free! Well, when I heard the ‘F’ word my ears pricked up!

“Free, what do you mean free?” I asked Caramel. To which I got the rather bemused response “Erm, it doesn’t cost you anything” Okay, I thought, I had better give it a shot. Caramel gave me details of the sleep pod experience and I swiftly accessed the web page and reserved one for a few days ahead.

On the day of the experience I was getting very excited. After all, I am always moaning about the lack of sleep I get, and often feel tired in the afternoon. Maybe the 20 minute nap would help recharge my (Energiser) batteries. If I enjoyed the experience then I could make the sleep pod a part of my regular sleep routine.

My appointment was for 12.30 and I made my way to where the sleep pods were located. Once there I went upstairs and saw three sleep pods awaiting the next customer. Funnily enough, there was no staff around which seemed strange. Maybe they were eaten by the alien looking pods for brunch.

There was a person in one of the sleep pods as I could see their legs sticking out (no idea what had happened to their upper body though!). My first thought was that the sleep pods reminded me of one of those James Bond or science fiction movies where a person is strapped into a seat and they then have this contraption put on their head, and within minutes their mind has been erased, or worse. I rejected this thought and put it down to a lack of coffee for the day.

I picked up an instruction sheet and made my way to an unoccupied sleep pod. I sat in the seat and followed what was required to have a relaxing twenty minutes of sleep time. I had trouble adjusting the level of the seat. The idea was to have your knees raised to the level of your heart. Anyway, after a few attempts I got the correct position. Next was to set the timer for 20 mins, put on the headphones and close the pod.

Lying inside the pod reminded me of what it would be like to have half a gigantic egg shell put over your head. Well that’s what it felt like to me! I expected tentacles to come down from the ceiling of the pod and attach themselves to my head and suck out all of my memory and then eat my brain. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

A voice started speaking to me via the headphones. Also, new age music was being played in the background. The voice told me that I was going to relax and would enjoy the sleep experience. I started to relax and the music began to have a sleepy affect on me. However, this was interrupted by the voice intermittently telling me how I would be feeling by now. In fact, the voice continued the whole time of my 'sleep'.

Just as I was falling asleep the voice (now really pissing me off!) told me that my sleep experience was coming to a close and I needed to wake up. Fat chance of that, I thought. Within seconds the seat was in the upright position and my twenty minutes was over.

Did I feel less tired? No. Did I feel relaxed? No. Will I be going back? Yes – but with the volume set to zero!

02 December 2007

I am the Boss!

"I was also not sure if Posh Spice is the sort of WAG we want at Ebbsfleet...That was until my 4 year old headbutted me in the stomach, and reality was restored!"

A few weeks ago I was reading one of the free newspapers that you get in Sydney (in fact, there is only one, as the other two freebies are glossy magazines with trashy articles and job vacancies) when I came upon an interesting article.

The article that caught my attention related to a soccer club that the newspaper had become a part owner of. The club in question was called Ebbsfleet United. When I read this my eyes nearly popped out of my head! Luckily they didn't otherwise I'd have lots of trouble writing this blog.

Ebbsfleet United (or Gravesend & Northfleet as they used to be known to us locals) are one of the teams that I have supported since being a youngster. In fact, I was there in October to see the 'Fleet' beat Torquay United 2-1! The other thing that puzzled me was the fact that the newspaper was a part owner of this great Kentish soccer club.

Naturally, I wanted to know more. So when I got home, I logged onto the website http://www.myfootballclub.co.uk/ and found out some details about how to become an owner. Well, within 24 hours I had paid my small fee and had become a co-owner of this soccer club. All co-owners have a say in the running of the club. For example, we can recommend players to buy, sack the manager and even discuss tactics. Better still, we will not be liable for any debt that the 'Fleet' incur!

Following my registration I immediately felt like Roman Abramovich the Russian Billionaire who owns Chelsea. Straight away I got out my old and trusty notebook and started making a list of potential transfers for my club. My mind went to the best players for inspiration. Obviously the goal is to get the 'Fleet' into League 2. To do this we need classy players not just good ones. My pencil started scribing down the name of David Beckham. But no sooner had I written his name I had crossed it out. For starters he would want a huge salary, and he also has too many tattoos! I was also not sure if Posh Spice is the sort of WAG we want at Ebbsfleet.

Next I started thinking about Cristiano Ronaldo. However, he might not be up to the standard required. After all, do we really want a poser, diver and a winker in the team? Certainly not from my point of view. The North Kent accent might be too hard for him to understand as well.

I realised that I had to lower my sights if I was to be more realistic. Certainly there are a lot of good lower grade players who could do the job for us. My mind swiftly thought about recommending my own name. Years ago I was certainly in my prime, but not now. Also, being in Sydney could make the travelling costs too high for the club. For a split second I could dream about being the star signing. That was until my 4 year old headbutted me in the stomach, and reality was restored!

As for manager (now head coach) do we stay with Liam Daish, who has done a great job in the short space of time he has been at the 'Fleet', or do we go for a better named coach? Having seen England fail to qualify for the European Championships I ruled out the name of Steve McClaren! Better stick with Liam for the time being!

Next I started thinking about the ground. Anyone who has visited the ground at Stonebridge Road will know it needs more that a coat of paint if the team are to be successful. My mind was thinking of a 40,000 all seater stadium, but given that the average gate is just over 1,000 then this may have to wait for a few years, or decades!

Anyway, the message I am trying to portray is that being a co-owner of a club gives a person the chance to fulfill a childhood fantasy and be responsible for the running of a soccer club. Yes, I am the boss, and yes, my input into the running of the club is important. I may not be a Russian billionaire, or smoke cigars or even be an ex Prime Minister of Thailand who run successful clubs. What I am now is someone who, to some degree, is an equal to them.

So if you are in Gravesend on a Saturday I implore you to check out my soccer team, Ebbsfleet United. You know it will be worth it. If you aren't into soccer, never mind. There is a statue of Pocahontas (the real one) who is buried at St George's Church (next to the tourist information bureau) that you can visit.

In the meantime, I'll be working on my list of potential players for Ebbsfleet!

24 November 2007

A Country Flush

"The subject of my laughter was because the bookmark was advertising, wait for it, the 'National Public Toilet Map'!!...After all, I was in Canberra, a city that has 'circuits' instead of roundabouts and a Parliament that has a lawn on its roof"

A couple of days ago, my wife and I thought we would drive down to Canberra and attend an event held by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Our main reason for going was that a good friend of ours, Jia, was one of the keynote speakers at this event.

We had a great time and got to talk to a number of ICRC members about their work across the globe. As we bade our farewell (we were driving back to Sydney the same day - 600 kms round trip), I noticed a stand that contained some informational leaflets. I decided to check them out while waiting for my wife.

There was one in particular that drew my attention. It was shaped like a bookmark and had the Australian Government emblem on it. I decided to pick it up and let out a small stifled laugh when I read what it was promoting.

The subject of my laughter was because the bookmark was advertising, wait for it, the 'National Public Toilet Map'!!

My first thought was "what the ?". After all, I was in Canberra, a city that has 'circuits' instead of roundabouts and a Parliament that has a lawn on its roof. To me it was something that I would expect to find in the nations capital. In my opinion, Canberra is a crazy governmental sterile type of place. If you ever visit Canberra do so with an open mind, and don't stay too long, otherwise you may get to like it.

Anyway, the Australian Government has apparently set up a website called http://www.toiletmap.gov.au/ to help Australians, and tourists alike better plan their journeys. I suppose, putting on my serious hat for a few seconds, that if you have young children, or suffer from incontinence then it may be a good idea to have this information at hand.

However, the fact that the Government has spent loads of money setting up the website and advertising it seems quite ludicrous given all the other problems that the country is experiencing at present. But for now, I'll put aside my view of Australia's woes until another day.

Being an inquisitive type of person, I decided to take a look at the website to see what I could learn about all things lavatorial.

When you enter the website, the first thing that you notice is that the search functionality is divided into 'Browse', 'Find' and 'Plan'. I quickly clicked on 'Find' and entered in my postcode. Sure enough, the search results revealed that I am surrounded by five public toilets, including one at the railway station (which is normally locked up). Wow, amazing stuff! I then searched on other parts of Australia and found details of more public toilets!

By now, I was getting excited (which doesn't say much). Who'd have thought that searching for toilets would be such fun!

Next I tried out the 'Plan' functionality that allows you to identify all the public toilets between two destinations. I entered details of two suburbs in Sydney to see how many of them there would be. Well, the search results advised me that there were six public toilets on my chosen route, and it even gave me directions on how to get there! The only thing missing was information about the toilet rolls contained in each toilet!

You can also register for your own 'Toilet Map' and save your favourite trips and destinations, as well. All important stuff indeed. The thing that really amazed me was that you can subscribe to a newsletter.

Now I don't know about you, but my mind was thinking about what the newsletter would contain. Would it give an update on the state of toilets for Bunbury?, have testimonials from a Mrs Jones who used the toilet planner to travel from Wagga Wagga to Forbes?, and would there be a picture of the 'Toilet of the Month"?

Who knows, but I am tempted to subscribe and find out!

21 November 2007

A Long Hot Summer

"One can only hope that Santa has an air-conditioned sleigh, otherwise he is going to be reeking really bad in that fur lined red cloak!....Suddenly, you notice a passenger standing up holding onto a rail with armpit raised"

Even though it’s not quite summer here in Sydney, it is certainly starting to feel like it.

Already the temperatures are rising, and the nights are getting sticky (and that’s not because Justin Timberlake was in town recently he he he). This year it seems that the humidity has started earlier than normal, as we don’t often experience that humid, clammy feeling until January at the earliest.

So for the vast majority of people living in Sydney, we can expect perspiration to be the order of the day for the next three months. One can only hope that Santa has an air-conditioned sleigh, otherwise he is going to be reeking really bad in that fur lined red cloak! With the possibility of reindeer droppings, the mind boggles as to what the combined smell would be like.

One of the certainties of the warmer months in Sydney, even more certain than mosquito bites and sunburn, is the rise in body odour. In fact, the first noticeable sign of this is when you are catching public transport while travelling to and from the CBD.

What happens quite often, is that you will be sitting on a train, ferry or bus totally engrossed in your book or trash mag (in my case, being a male, it is a classic rock magazine) when all of a sudden your nose detects an unusual smell. Instinctively, your head moves to the direction of where it thinks it has originated from. Suddenly, you notice a passenger standing up holding onto a rail with armpit raised right next to your seat. As if by magic, the smell continues to waft over you until you exit your mode of transportation. By now you are desperate for fresh clean air!

To compound this further is the fact that virtually all the trains that I seem to catch are not air conditioned in the warmer months. I find this very strange, as in winter I always seem to catch an air conditioned one – which is the time of year when you don’t really need it! My view is that most air-con trains must go on a summer sabbatical to cooler climes. This being the only obvious reason for their lack of appearances across the city in summer.

So, dear reader, spare a thought for us Sydneysiders who rely on public transport to get to work, school, Britney Spears concerts etc and having to inhale a variety of nauseating body odours.

Roll on the cooler months!!!!

18 November 2007

Is it Christmas already?

"It is quite surreal to walk into a department store and see these 'winter images' ... Try cooking a roast turkey with all the trimmings when the mercury is nudging 40C! It's not a pleasurable experience at all!"

This morning I took my two daughters to the local supermarket as we had to pick up a few odds and ends. Although it is our local supermarket I had not visited it for a few weeks. Partly because I had been overseas, and partly because, well, I hadn't!

Anyway, as I walked into the store, straight away my eldest spotted some Christmas candy sticks (sort of striped walking sticks - but obviously not on the same scale!). Immediately she said 'Dad, I think we should get some for Christmas". My reply was "not today, Christmas is many weeks away yet."

When we got home, I realised that Christmas is not a long way off at all but only five weeks away. My second realisation was that I need to start seriously thinking about the family Christmas - but this thought soon passed.

The subject of an impending Christmas gave me an idea for a blog. The main reason being that I didn't have anything else to currently write about. Even though I do not seem to suffer from bloggers cramp, akin to writers cramp, I had not come up with any topics. So I thought it would be good to describe an Aussie Christmas compared to an English Christmas.

Despite the obvious, ie: the weather, there isn't too much difference between both Christmases. In fact, aside from differing religious views at this time of year, it's exactly the same! Now I know you are thinking this cannot be the case - but it is! I have the evidence to support my views on this as well.

For example, all the major department stores put up snowy Christmas scenes in their store windows. The fake snow, carol singers, a portly Santa and so on. Exactly the same as in England! It is quite surreal to walk into a department store and see these 'winter images' when the temperature is 30C!

All around Australia, major cities and towns will erect Christmas trees decorated with baubles, angels and tinsel etc. I have to admit that this can look strange when you are in the tropical part of Australia where palm trees are the norm! Around the base of the trees you will mostly find a scene from the birth of Christ, or a winter type theme.

Carol singers will do the rounds in some parts of the country. However, these ones will not be rugged up against the winter cold, but will be wearing a t-shirt, shorts and thongs (flip flops). It can be slightly amusing to new migrants from Northern Europe to see this.

When it comes to the 'Big Day', assuming that you have been a good boy or girl and had some pressies, the Christmas Dinner is prepared. No prizes for guessing what is cooked!

One recent Christmas I thought I would cook a turkey with roast potatoes, veggies etc and cover it with a nice gravy sauce (yummy). Well there was one thing I totally overlooked, and that was the weather! Try cooking a roast turkey with all the trimmings when the mercury is nudging 40C! It's not a pleasurable experience at all! I have to admit the food was nice, but the amount of sweat dripping down our foreheads was unbelievable!

Most British people will see on their news programmes that at Christmas there are lots of people celebrating on Bondi Beach! Well, I have to advise you that the vast majority of these are backpackers from Britain and other countries around the world. The typical Aussie will be at a family gathering somewhere eating turkey while drinking a nice cold glass of beer or wine.

As you can see from the from the few points above there are huge parallels between England and Australia where Christmas is concerned.

Well, I am off now to make a list of Christmas presents....

15 November 2007

The milk triangle strikes again!

"The milk only lasted 3 days! Yes, that is correct, just 72 hours!!...So far, no one has shown any signs of a milk addiction"

This is a follow up to my two earlier blogs where has all the milk gone and looks like the milk is still disappearing where I mentioned that I must be living on top of a ‘Milk Triangle’ similar to that of the Bermuda Triangle. In this case it is our milk supply that is going missing and not planes or boats!

Well, I can announce, rather frustratedly, that this problem has gone from bad to worse!

Last Sunday we purchased 15 litres of milk for consumption by the family. At present our ‘family’ consists of three adults and two young children (aged 5 and 4). For a ‘normal’ family 15 litres of milk would probably last the best part of a week, or even longer. Alas, this is not the case in our household. The milk only lasted 3 days! Yes, that is correct, just 72 hours!! Putting on my mathematical hat that means 1 litre was being consumed every 4.8 hours.

Since my last blog about this I have been keeping a strategic eye on the other four members of the family. So far, no one has shown any signs of a milk addiction. In fact, this has made it harder for me to work out the real reasons for the disappearance of the white liquid.

I am seriously considering hiring a security guard 24/7 to monitor access to the fridge, and in particular the consumption of milk if this activity continues.

If anyone can shed any light, or suggest any solutions then please do. In the meantime I’ll look up ‘security guards’ in the yellow pages….

12 November 2007

School Days Revisited!

"The class, oops introduction night, started with….a prayer! I began to think, in my groggy food poisoning state, that maybe I had turned up to the wrong place!....Then the Principal asked if there were any more comments while fixing me with a steely glare. I looked away and pretended I hadn’t heard the question."

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I attended an introduction night for a local Catholic school. The reason for this was because we are thinking on enrolling our eldest daughter into it when the new school term starts in late January 2008. This school would represent the first year of ‘big school’ for her. Since mentioning the words ‘big school’ our eldest has suddenly become ‘grown up’ and even started to boss around our youngest! It’s amazing how children change their habits so quickly (even quicker than what a Nun could do – very bad joke!) when they think they are growing up.

Anyway, there were a few issues about attending this introduction night. Firstly, my wife is a Sikh and I was bought up in a non religious Church of England family. So, the obvious question was why are we able to potentially send our Sikh/COE daughter to a Catholic school? Good question indeed. Fortunately, for a few years my wife attended a Catholic school in the far northern reaches of NSW which certainly helped us. Also, there was no need to ‘change’ religions to fit into proper Catholicism values for this school. Indeed, on the introduction night there were families of Muslim, Hindu, Orthodox and, of course, Catholic backgrounds as well as our own religious mixture.

However, the main issue on the night was not related to religious reasons, but rather to health. The previous day I had come home early from work and had been suffering from food poisoning. This involved numerous unintended stomach exercises and frequent visits to the bathroom! To say I was feeling weak and ill was certainly an understatement. Somehow, I managed to get myself together for the two minute drive to the potential new school.

When we got there we were invited into a room similar to that of a small assembly room. In it were a number of parents who were keen to find out more about the school and its curriculum. I was very keen to find out more too, as well as locating the nearest bathroom in case I needed to do a 100M sprint! Inside the smallish room were three teachers together with the Principal – a lovely lady who exuded so much love and passion for all things education.

The class, oops introduction night, started with….a prayer! I began to think, in my groggy food poisoning state, that maybe I had turned up to the wrong place! A prayer to start proceedings? What was this all about? All the schools that I attended had praying very low on the agenda. In fact, it was virtually non existent! Anyway, I put my hands together and listened to the prayer, which was about children, especially the ones that have nothing. By the end of it a few mothers were crying, including my wife. It was a very emotional prayer indeed.

Next, was a general introduction to the school and its educational services. All quite impressive, really.

Following the introduction the Principal asked everyone to turn to the person next to them and introduce themselves, and then explain how they felt on their first day at school. Quite a simple request. For me, however, this was quite hard. Obviously I could introduce myself easily enough – no problems there. The main problem I had was trying to remember my first school day!

There were two reasons for this. Firstly, I was unwell and secondly, my first day was so long ago I think they still had steam trains running! I turned to my wife, who was enthusiastically telling a couple about her first day at school, and I quietly whispered into her ear ‘I can’t remember my first day!!!’. My wife turned to me and said ‘of course, you can. I remember mine like it was yesterday!’. My reply was ‘erm nope, can’t remember anything!’

By now I was feeling totally inadequate. How could I be the only person who could not remember their first school day? I made a mental note to ring my mother in the UK over the next week or so and ask her about my first day experience.

To compound matters, the Principal asked for parents to reveal some of their experiences. Straight away my wife raised her hand and proceeded to inform all of her feelings and experiences. A number of other parents also contributed to the discussion. Then the Principal asked if there were any more comments while fixing me with a steely glare. I looked away and pretended I hadn’t heard the question.

For the rest of the night we learnt a lot about what the school had to offer and, yes, I was very impressed. They certainly seemed to have all bases covered in relation to the future education of our daughter.

We left the school with positive impressions of it and happy to send our daughter there, If that is what we do. For myself, I needed to do some homework to find out about my first day at school in case I am ever asked about it!

09 November 2007

1,000 hits and more to come!

"Workmates also suffered my powers of persuasion and I managed to influence Jia and the Bunno Bumpkin to take up blog writing!....I am popular in the US city of Tulsa as it is my 6th most popular city! "

When I started writing blogs I didn't really think that anyone would be remotely interested in them. To my surprise I soon found out that people all around the globe were clicking on to my blog to read my tales of catching buses to Kellyville, watching Fairy DVD's with my daughters, discovering a Milk triangle (Bermuda Triangle for our milk supply) in the house, travelling to Ashfield from Sydney via Broken Hill! and so on.

Even more surprising, especially to myself, was that I have continued to write blogs at fairly regular intervals. I honestly believed that I would be able to write 6, or maybe 7, and then that would be it. I also thought that the novelty of having a blog site would wear off. How wrong could I be! This blog is my 24th effort since mid July.

I soon recorded my 500th hit within the first two months of the inception of my blog. I have to admit there was a fair amount of shameless promotion in reaching that figure. I hassled friends and family to click onto my blog and read my stories. Workmates also suffered my powers of persuasion and I managed to influence Jia and the Bunno Bumpkin to take up blog writing!

By now I was getting regular visitors to my blog and that was very pleasing. So at this junction I would like to say a big THANK YOU to my regular readers! You all know who you are!

I then added an RSS feed to the blog site and made it easier for my readers to subscribe to the blog site. I was also starting to receive good feedback from the comments that some of my readers left and this was very comforting to myself.

Anyway, I always thought that it would be good to register the 1,000th hit, and this week it happened! I reached the magical mark in just under 4 months of having my blog site! To say I was excited about this would be a huge understatement. I now want to go on and get to 2,000 as soon as possible!

To date my blog has been viewed by 34 different countries on every continent in the World. I can safely say it's a truly global blog! Newer countries that have been recorded are Latvia, Cyprus, Argentina, FYR Macedonia, Yemen, Finland, Philippines and Egypt just to name a few. Australia, naturally, is my main market and it accounts for approximately 2/3 of all my hits. This is followed by the UK, US and France.

Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and London are the main cities where the hits are coming from. However, I am popular in the US city of Tulsa as it is my 6th most popular city! This is followed by Dubai (Hi Nesreen), Manila and about 40 other cities! Strangely New York is not a big market for me at present.

So there you have it, a milestone has been reached. Something I never dreamt of happening has well and truly happened! Onwards and upwards to 2,000! Maybe I should also think about compiling a book of my blogs. However, I'll leave that for another day!

03 November 2007

looks like the milk is still disappearing!

"In fact, the amount of milk purchased would have been enough to feed all the starving children of Africa!...Could it be that when I am sleeping my daughters are tiptoeing downstairs, using the telephone to call their toddler friends and inviting them over for a midnight party

A couple of months ago I wrote a blog called 'where has all the milk gone?' //http://dw-perspectives.blogspot.com/2007/09/where-has-all-milk-gone.html The premis of this was that despite buying copious amounts of milk it always seemed to vanish. In fact, the amount of milk purchased would have been enough to feed all the starving children of Africa!

Anyway, things settled down soon after I published that blog and I thought that, maybe, it was just a blip on the radar. After all, not every plane disappears over the Bermuda Triangle. So it seemed that my very own 'milk triangle' had decided not to make all our milk disappear every time.

Naturally my two daughters (and even my wife) seem to drink milk like most people might drink water. Even allowing for that there was always a large volume of the white liquid left over for breakfast cereal etc. However, this week it seems as if the 'milk triangle' is back and with a vengeance.

What I would like explained, from a scientific and rational point of view, is how 23 litres of milk can disappear into thin air in a shade over 4 days!

Now I am sure that there is an easy answer to this question, but I am not sure that I can think of one!

Could it be that when I am sleeping my daughters are tiptoeing downstairs, using the telephone to call their toddler friends and inviting them over for a midnight party of muffins and milk? Now there's a thought. Maybe I need to stand guard outside their room all night to see what happens.

If anyone else has any ideas then please let me know!!!

Jet lag in Sydney, or is it London?

'I apologised and handed him a $10 note only to find the shop assistant still looking bemused. I then realised that I had given him 10 Hong Kong dollars and not Aussie ones!...you can be assured a 5 and 4 year old will not let you sleep, especially when they are continuing with the rugby tackles'

Well I've been back in the land 'Down Under' for just over a week now and I really feel like I never went on an overseas trip. I guess that is the thing with reality. Once you arrive back home your holiday, trip abroad or whatever the reason was that you ventured overseas for seems very surreal. I suppose there's always the photographs for you to look at to remind you of your 'great adventure across the ocean'.

One of the things all travellers have to get over, especially when flying half way around the world, is jet lag. Now jet lag is not just the fact that you are in a different time zone. It is also about having to deal with a different climate; culture; language (Aussie strine. eg - strewth, fair dinkum etc); food; transport and even differing types of alcohol (which is not really a huge problem for me, hic!).

So I thought I would record how my first week of being back in Australia has gone in re-adjusting to the Aussie way of life.

I suppose my first symptom of jet lag happened while I was still at Macquarie Bank - oops Kingsford Smith airport. Having rung my wife, to arrange being picked up, I decided to buy a newspaper and catch up on all that had been happening since I had been away. However, when I gave the shop assistant the correct money, he looked at me quizzically and said 'I cannot accept English money'. I apologised and handed him a $10 note only to find the shop assistant still looking bemused. I then realised that I had given him 10 Hong Kong dollars and not Aussie ones! As the queue behind me was getting bigger I handed over an Australian $50 dollar note, took my change and departed hastily.

This example really is a classic case of jet lag. Even though you know you are in a different country your brain just does not want to respond accordingly!

Having arrived home and being constantly rugby tackled by my two daughters (please take note of this Australian Rugby selectors) I tried to relax and stay awake until the early evening. One of the best ways of getting over jet lag, especially when you travel from England to Australia, is to force yourself to stay awake throughout the day until night time. Even though your brain and body are saying "hey, what are you doing? it's 3am in England!!" you must do your valiant best and fight off that sleepy feeling.

There's a number of ways to do this. One way is to go out for the day and do lots of active things and ensure that you get plenty of fresh air. Taking your daughters to a park, or somewhere similar is good too as you can be assured a 5 and 4 year old will not let you sleep, especially when they are continuing with the rugby tackles. Another way is to drink copious amounts of coffee. However, I do not recommend this as you may not be sleeping for a long time.

In my case it was simple - spend time with my daughters and wife, have a nice relaxing shower and get to bed by 8.30pm. Naturally, this was not going to happen. Mind you, all was going according to plan. I had my shower and it was approaching 8.30 when suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge thunderstorm decided to make an uninvited appearance. I spent the next ninety minutes comforting my girls who were very scared of the thunder. Finally, at just after 10pm I got to sleep only to wake up at 3.55am! So much for a big sleep.

There were other instances this week. The most obvious being my use of the word 'pounds' for 'dollars' which has meant I have received puzzled looks especially from my co-workers. Another instance was not remembering where our bathroom was for a few seconds as the one at the family home in England is in a different place. And no, I didn't wet the floor!

Probably the most unusual incident this week was the fact that while I was unfortunately vomiting in the Sydney CBD (due to food poisoning the previous day, caught probably from a dodgy burger at Maccas) my mobile phone rung twice. The thought crossed my mind to answer the phone on both occasions. However, my urge to 'drive the porcelain bus' was very strong so I let the messages go to voice mail. I must say it was a close run thing!

As I mentioned earlier it's amazing that what your brain wants you to do can be in direct contrast to what you need to do.

Fortunately for me the rest of the week was uneventful except for the bruises that I now have from all that rugby tackling!

28 October 2007

A story about Heathrow (a Third World Airport)

"As any English person will tell you Heathrow is one of those places that you simply detest, and is on par with Milton Keynes.....However, with my Lewis Hamilton driving skills, I managed to get to the check in counter really quickly"

The time had come for me to head back to Australia after my 5 week stay in good ol' Blighty. The downside to this, aside from saying goodbye to family and friends, was the fact that I would have to head to Heathrow to catch my flight.

As any English person will tell you Heathrow is one of those places that you simply detest, and is on par with Milton Keynes and, for the Aussies, Canberra in the 'detesting stakes'. The reason being is that Heathrow is always hard to get to if there are traffic delays on any of the connecting roads and, once inside one of the 4 huge terminals (number 5 is nearly operational), it is always quite difficult to get to your departure gate on time.

Naturally my trip to Heathrow was always going to be stressful with a capital 'S'.

We had arranged for a taxi service to take my Mother, Sister and I to the airport. This is a service that we have used many times before and we have got to know the driver quite well. The idea is that you are picked up, with ample time to allow for any traffic delays etc, and arrive at Heathrow in time to check in, say your farewells, buy your London fridge magnet, purchase a box of Tolberones and board the flight on time.

We were advised that the taxi service would be picking us up at 6.30pm. However, when it got to 6.45pm we rang the cab company and was informed that the driver was running about an hour late due to traffic delays on the infamous M25. When I heard this I started to feel the first pangs of worry!

For the uninitiated, the M25 has been called, rightly at times, the world's biggest parking lot. It is a ring road that circles the outskirts of London and is connected to all the major roads allowing drivers to get to, for example, Manchester without having to drive through the centre of London. I suppose it is like a glorified roundabout!

The driver arrived at 7.35 and with my calculations I would have 30 minutes left to check in and say my goodbyes before heading to Gate 456 or whatever the gate number would be. However, if there were any more delays then I could be trying to re-arrange my flight!

To be fair to the driver, he did drive extremely quickly (given the nature of the M25) and we got to the airport with about 45 minutes to spare. I rushed off with my suitcase to find the Virgin Atlantic check in desk. Naturally, it was at the opposite end of the airport. However, with my Lewis Hamilton driving skills, I managed to get to the check in counter really quickly (but I failed to take out the Formula 1 championship just like Lewis!).

I checked in and was told that as my suitcase weighed 28 kilos I would be charged excess fees. However, if I took some of my items out of it and put them into my backpack then I would be ok. So for the next 10 minutes I was frantically taking items out of the suitcase and putting them into my backpack. All the items that I took out were for my daughters. These items included a number of Fifi and the Flowertots books, Lazy Town magazines and, of course, some Dora the Explorer magazines. Finally, despite not getting my suitcase to the correct weight, I was allowed to lock my case and proceed upstairs to Departures.

When I got upstairs my jaw literally hit the ground (thankfully it didn't and I am able to eat and talk fine). There was a queue the length of the terminal with hundreds of passengers waiting to get through the x ray machines and customs. It reminded me of being at a Third World airport rather than at one of the world's biggest and best. I looked at my watch and broke out in a cold sweat. How on earth would I board my plane on time?

Slowly the queue moved forward. I said a quick farewell to my Mother and Sister and continued to slowly shuffle my way to the x ray machines. I spoke to an official and said that my flight was due to leave very soon. Fortunately he let me queue jump a few rows. Suddenly, I was confronted with a plethora of passengers trying to get through the limited number of x ray machines. Finally, it was my turn. To compound my experience I set the x ray machine off and had to be frisked to see what had set it off. Actually, the official couldn't find anything and let me proceed.

By now I had 15 minutes to get to my flight. However, the call of nature was calling me very loudly - in fact it was shouting! So I tried to find a toilet. You would think this would be a simple thing to do. Wrong! For some reason all the toilets were closed for 'cleaning'. After coming across this for the third time, I asked the toilet attendant "if I should piss on the floor" seeing as there was nowhere else I could go. The attendant looked puzzled and just smiled.

Finally, I got to Departure Gate 456 (actually it was Gate 1). Once I had my boarding ticket I headed straight to the plane toilets before going to my seat. I have to admit I did get some quizzical looks from the gay flight attendant!

The rest of the flight was great. I had no problems at Hong Kong airport or indeed good old Sydney Kingsford Smith airport. In fact the efficiency levels at these two airports was in stark contrast to Heathrow.

I got through Australian customs, collected my 'overweight' suitcase and was picked up by my wife and daughters and we drove our way home.

Finally, I fear for spectators who will be flying to London for the 2012 Olympics. Given the chaos of Heathrow I think that they would be better off by flying to Nepal for the world curry eating contest! After all, there are not any queues at Kathmandu airport!!

18 October 2007

Mad Dogs and Quintessential Englishmen go....bus spotting!

"At one stage I had doubled my money to 40p. Wow, I thought, I am rich!...we thought one of the spotters would have a cardiac arrest as three different types of buses all arrived at the same time "

Saturday I had the chance to do something very quintessentially English. A trip to the Kent seaside. So off I traipsed with my mother and sister in tow to the exotically named coastal town of Herne Bay. For the uninitiated Herne Bay is situated on the North Kent coast and is sort of where the Thames Estuary starts. It also has a wind farm clearly visible in the distance. The turbines certainly look like something form a Jules Verne novel.

Unlike other resorts around the world (Ibiza, Hawaii, Malta, Gold Coast etc) you don't really go to the beach at Herne Bay to get a suntan. That's not to say the sun doesn't shine as it does on the rare hot and sunny summer days. It's just that the beach is typically English and has pebbles instead of sand!

Many foreigners find it amazing that the pale skinned Brits (of which I am not) can lie on a beach towel on top of a pebbly beach. Having done this many times in my earlier years (that is before I discovered sand beaches) I can tell you that after 10 minutes of sunbathing and lying on pebbles it gets quite painful.

Mind you, the pain is nothing like going for a dip in the ocean and coming out with purple ankles due to its icy cold temperature. Sometimes bathers come out of the water looking like a purple coloured sea creature! Welcome to Summer - British style. However, there was no way any of us was going in the water in October!

Another quintessentially British thing to do is to eat fish and chips. So for lunch we all headed to a cafe and had the traditional cod and chips. Naturally the cod has to be served in batter. My sister went one better and had a pickled onion with her traditional fayre. Bread and butter was soon added to our gourmet lunch.

The third typically English thing we did was go to an amusement arcade. Growing up, my sister and I had lots of fun putting our pennies in the many different machines on offer and feeling happy when we doubled our winnings to 10p!!! Anyway, we all played the 2p cakewalk style machines this time. At one stage I had doubled my money to 40p. Wow, I thought, I am rich!

We caught a train home and viewed the Kingsnorth Power Station which has recently been nicely decorated by Greenpeace with the name 'Gordon' clearly visible on it's side. Gordon is, of course, the first name of the British PM of whom Greenpeace have issues with regarding power stations.

Finally we arrived at our train station and queued up to catch a bus home. While waiting for the bus I noticed two elderly men in anoraks with cameras and notebooks. For some reason they were keenly looking at all the buses that were passing us by. Naturally our bus was not one of them! Every time a bus passed these men they recorded something in their notebooks. Suddenly it dawned on me what they were doing. These men were bus spotters and were recording details of the different buses - another quintessentially English trait!

To say they were enthusiastic would be an understatement! Bus spotting is rare but train spotting is not. The anorak brigade seem to revel in recording details of trains, buses etc. For some reason it does not appeal to me. There again I don't own an anorak anyway!

At one stage we thought that one of the spotters would have a cardiac arrest as three different types of buses all arrived at the same time. Somehow, despite this excitement, both spotters got to record all details of the buses and resuscitation was not thankfully not required.

While this was going on our bus pulled up and we got on it and made our way home for a quintessential cup of Rosy Lee (tea).

12 October 2007

Is it really the Seventies again?

"maybe Doctor Who put me in the Tardis and, voila, its back to the Seventies....to take out a second mortgage on your house to buy a ticket to see your old faves"

Since being back in the UK I have been experiencing feelings of deja vu. Naturally, deja vu can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what it is. Well in this case I feel that I have been transported back to the late Seventies. The funny thing is I don't remember being teleported back approximately 28 years. Maybe Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise did it while I was sleeping, or maybe Doctor Who put me in the Tardis and, voila, its back to the Seventies. Strange thing is I didn't need my passport!

Despite my youthful age(?) I do remember a fair bit of the Seventies as I was still at school and going through the growing pains of being a teenager. I recall quite clearly that I was a music and sports fan as were all of my fellow friends and schoolmates. In fact I still am. I do recall being a hotshot at table tennis but sadly not any more.

Anyway, getting back to this feeling of deja vu. Some of you may recall that in the late Seventies Labour were in Government and the Prime Minister at the time, Jim Callaghan, contemplated calling an autumn election only to decide against it. When he called the election in the following spring he was comprehensively beaten by the Iron Maiden (Mrs T!).

Fast forward to now and the new PM, Gordon Brown, also contemplated going to the polls but decided against it when the Conservative opposition started to poll well in the opinion polls. Will history repeat itself for Mr Brown? As Cyndi Lauper sang only 'time will tell'.

From a musical point of view progressive rock is making a comeback as groups like Muse and Mostly Autumn bring back the memory of Seventies super groups like Yes, Genesis (the early version before Phil Collins lost his hair), ELP and Pink Floyd. For the uninitiated 'prog rock' consists of long keyboard and guitar solos, songs lasting 15 minutes and lyrics generally with a sci fi or fantasy type theme. Just to inform all that Kylie Minogue and Madonna are definitely not prog rock!

On the touring scene groups like Kiss, Police, Status Quo, Jam, Stranglers and many more (including Cliff Richard - real age 124) are still playing concerts. Whereas the tickets in the old days were a few pounds now you need to take out a second mortgage on your house to buy a ticket to see your old faves!!

Fashion certainly has gone back to the Seventies. If you look in any clothing store, or view a catalogue, you will see this is the case. Flared jeans, platform boots, black leggings, multi coloured dresses, hot pants, smock coats and large hooped earrings are just some of the recycled fashions. I do believe I have seen some huge shoulder pads on view as well! Men are now sporting longer hair ala James Blunt. Also the beard seems to be making a comeback just as it did in the Seventies. Thankfully, I have resisted the urge to make my chin disappear under a face of hair!

If you are watching television here in the UK you will most likely see shows like Fawlty Towers (an all time classic), M.A.S.H., Last of the Summer Wine, Miss Marple and so on. Some of the presenters are still on prime time television. Bruce Forsyth and Des O'Connor are still plying their trade on prime time shows! Similarly, Terry Wogan and Tony Blackburn are still broadcasting on the radio for all to hear!

So will my feelings of deja vu continue? I don't think so. I am sure I will be transported back to 2007 any day now. Even if Captain Kirk or Doctor Who cannot help me I am sure that someone will (pretty please!). In the meantime I'll get out a CD (oops, I mean vinyl) and listen to the sounds of the Seventies on my cd player (erm, i mean record player)!

10 October 2007

The Winning Number is...

"there are more choices of lotteries than there are of breakfast cereal....I can imagine a collective sigh from the anorak brigade"

Every time I come back to the UK I always notice a few a few changes to the culture of the country. On the plus side, for example, it's easier to get a nice cup of coffee in virtually any town or village. A few years ago to get a cappuccino (aka frothy coffee) meant putting a plastic disposable cup under a machine and pushing the correct coffee button. What you would end up with, however, was a watered down coffee with hardly any froth on it. In fact, it probably tasted like washing up water after all the cutlery and crockery from a Sunday roast had been cleaned!

One of the last bastions that the UK had resisted for ages (apart from sushi) was that of holding a national lottery. From memory, I cannot remember when it was initiated but having done a quick search on the Internet my friend Mr Google advises me that it was 1994.

In contrast, Australia has had a lottery in existence since the late 1950's when a lottery was put in place to help fund the Sydney Opera House. I should mention that most lotteries in Australia are state based but there are a couple of national lotteries as well.

Well the UK has certainly been in lottery overdrive mode since the inception of the first one as today there are, aside from scratch cards, 7 lottery draws! For the record (m'lud) they are: Lotto; Lotto Hot Picks; Euro Millions; Dream Number; Thunderball; Daily Play and Olympic Lottery. As you can see there are more choices of lotteries than there are of breakfast cereal (well almost!).

One of the major differences between Australia and the UK is how the lottery draws are presented. The one's Down Under are always shown in an advert break during an evening programme, like one of the multitude of CSI shows that exist. There is no pomp and ceremony just a crossover to a studio where there are three people with clipboards (rumour has it that they are really writing out a shopping list or doing a su-doku puzzle), one machine and a nondescript host who has 2 minutes to watch the balls come out of the machine and advise the viewers of the winning numbers.

Quite often you can answer a call of nature during the advert break and totally miss the lottery draw! And I am speaking from experience!

Here in the Mother Country the lottery draw is done with a lot of pomp and ceremony that you would probably expect from the Americans rather than the British. While the midweek lottery draw is fairly low key the Saturday one surely is not!

The Saturday draw starts off with a quiz show where contestants can win large amounts of money sometimes courtesy of the lottery. The show changes intermittently but is currently one being hosted by Dale Winton. Towards the end of the show there is a crossover to Lottery HQ where a number of lottery draws are made. The presenter is always someone famous. However, most of these famous people I have never heard of!

When the draw is made additional information is provided to the viewer. For example, number 23 has been drawn 74 times and the last time it was drawn was on 5th February 2003. I can imagine a collective sigh from the anorak brigade when the importance of this information has sunk in.

But the fun does not stop there. Whereas in Australia we only have one lottery machine, here in the UK there are twelve of them! The machine used for each draw is selected by some method which I am unsure about. All of the machines have medieval names such as Arthur, Merlin, Galahad etc. The lottery draws are done in two parts during the quiz show with the main one towards the end of the show.

Despite the differences in the way the lottery draw is done I can still not select any winning numbers either here or in Australia. Maybe I should stick to a scratch card. Now there's an interesting topic.....

06 October 2007

Low pressure over the Atlantic!

"I have often thought about offering my services as a 'drought breaker'.....they always have facial expressions akin to a child opening presents on Christmas Day!"

For the first time in the past fortnight the weather here in England has actually been superb for more than one consecutive day. Now I know to a lot of people around the world, especially in Australia, that might be surprising. Indeed it is to me as well. Normally when I am back here in the Old Dart it rains on virtually every day of my stay. For example, a couple of years ago it rained on 28 of the 36 days I was here. Even last year during the English summer it rained on more than 20 days of my five week visit. At the beginning of my holiday the country was in drought, by the end of it the dams and reservoirs were virtually full!

I have often thought about offering my services as a 'drought breaker' as it always seems to rain when I am away from Australia! I imagine that I could charge large amounts of money in places, like Africa, who are crying out for the wet stuff from above. Maybe the UN might be interested in my drought breaking capabilities!

This brings me nicely onto the subject of the weather. To UK people the weather is one of the main topics of conversation. If you want to talk to a stranger on a bus, or in a lift or even in a swimming pool then talking about the weather is an easy option. In fact the Brits are well known to be fascinated by it!

One of the amazing things I have observed has been when the weather forecasters on television are revealing the current situation. I should state upfront that the presenters here are actually qualified meteorological professionals unlike in Australia. In Oz it is not unusual to see an ex comedian reading the weather forecast. I suppose that given the long dry, hot and sunny spells they get then it makes sense to put a bit of humour into the forecast.

Anyway, the forecasters here really seem to like bad weather. I have observed on numerous occasions that when the weather is truly lousy (ie: gale force winds, flooding, snowstorms etc) the forecasters get really excited! The tone of their voices seem to go up a notch and they always have facial expressions that are akin to a child opening presents on Christmas Day!

I imagine that these weather forecasters get up in the morning and, while they are eating their corn flakes and drinking their coffee, check the weather forecast from the Met Office. When they can see that its going to be a truly bad day, from a meteorological point of view, they let out an exultant whoop of joy!

The attitude of these forecasters changes dramatically when the UK experiences normal weather (like we are currently having). On these occasions the forecasts are done in a very monotonic way and the forecasters truly look sad. If you need proof of this check out any UK weather forecast.

The other amazing thing is that a number of these forecasters have become cult figures and celebrities in their own right. Often they will appear in a number of shows either hosting or as a guest. Soon I am sure there will be a weather forecasters 'Dancing with the Stars' here in Britain!

01 October 2007

How much should I bid for this?

“It could be said, however, that one of our greatest antiquities is indeed the Australian Prime Minister!….. or launching a midnight military style raid on Auntie Ethel’s home looking for that one item that could be worth a lot of money”

During the past seven days or so I have had the pleasure (or not) of having watched a large number of television shows. I often find it amazing, that when I am in England, how the variety of programmes differ from that which is seen in Australia.

For example, there are more quiz and cooking shows in England than compared to Australia. Chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Ainsley Harriott are far better known than members of the British government! In fact, every single day of the week there would have to be at least two or three cookery shows on offer to us the viewer. Obviously, the public must be following the recipes judging by the widening waistlines of the vast majority of Britons!

However, there is another category of shows that are extremely popular here in the Mother Country. These are ones that relate to antiques. Since being over here I have noticed that there are five regular antique shows on television. For the record they are ‘Cash in the Attic’, Antiques Roadshow’, ‘Flog it’, ‘Dickson’s Real Deal’ and ‘Bargain Hunt’.

As you can see antique shows are extremely popular. Even at 3am you will see a re-run of one of these shows. I can imagine night security guards up and down the country riveted to their television screens in the early hours of the morning as an antique expert discusses the merits of a Ming Dynasty bowl to a housewife from Accrington! It is possible that these shows act as a cure to prevent sleep for all night workers.

In Australia antique shows have not really taken off. A few years ago there was a similar show to ‘Antiques Roadshow’ but it didn’t last too long as it was axed by the ‘powers that be’. One of the main reasons, if I think about it, is that Australia is a young country in comparison to Britain or Europe. As such we do not have a great number of antiques on offer. It could be said, however, that one of our greatest antiquities is indeed the Australian Prime Minister! However, at the age of 68 John Howard may be deemed too young to be called a fossil.

As for me, I really like the antique shows and I am amazed when an ordinary looking vase, for example, is valued by one of the experts for thousands of pounds. I am already thinking of taking up buying and selling antiques as a hobby in the next year or two. After all, I used to like the television show ‘Lovejoy’ when it was broadcast a few years ago!

I can imagine that there must be thousands of people the length and breadth of Britain searching through their cupboards, attics, garages or launching a midnight military style raid on Auntie Ethel’s home looking for that one item that could be worth a lot of money. It is quite extraordinary to see everyday people being extremely surprised to see that their antique is worth more that they thought. Also the opposite is true. The emotions displayed by some people when they find out that their porcelain jug is worth nothing is priceless too!

Already I have been checking out if we have any antiques here in England that may be valuable. However, I am not sure if my sister’s Osmond’s records qualify as being antique!

23 September 2007

The plane now leaving gate A47!

"I decided to ask an official (who were rarer to spot than the Loch Ness Monster).....I thought 'great' trust me to get the lunatic!!"

It's amazing what a difference 72 hours can make. One minute you are literally in Sydney and the next you are in England! Well this is something that I have experienced in the last few days. On last Tuesday I received an urgent phone call that required me to travel to the Mother Country as soon as possible. By Friday morning I was in Kent having a cup of tea with my mother and sister!

If anyone has had to travel at the last minute they will know that there are a lot of things that you need to do. First thing is to book a flight. Simple enough, really. However, in practice not as easy as it may seem. Virtually all airline websites will not let you book a flight within 72 hours notice. However, there are a few that will. With some great help from a work colleague (Jia) I was able to book a flight with Virgin Atlantic.

My first minor obstacle that I needed to overcome was in relation to my passport. As I am a dual citizen of Britain and Australia I have two passports. I normally use the GB one to travel to England. However, as I had not renewed it I would have to travel on my Aussie one. So for immigration purposes I would have to state my nationality as Australian and queue up with 'all other nationalities' at London Heathrow instead of going through the EEC channel (which is very quick).

So I swiftly packed a suitcase and was dropped off at the airport by my wife and youngest daughter. By some miracle I had checked in within 5 minutes and I promptly made my way through to the departure side of the airport. With the new restrictions I placed my essentials in a clear plastic bag for inspection at immigration. The customs official smirked at my plastic bag as I had used a very small sandwich one! I think it made his day as I had in it my asthma medication and some cough lollies and breath freshener.

Once through, I decided to check out which gate my plane was leaving from even though I had a fair bit of time to keep myself occupied. My ticket said that the plane was leaving from Gate 58 but the departure board said A47! Cripes, I thought, where is gate 47??? and what does the 'A' in front of it mean? Having walked around all the departure gates I decided to ask an official (who were rarer to spot that the Loch Ness Monster). When I found one the official too was baffled. There was no such gate as 47. Was someone playing a trick on me? was I part of an elaborate TV reality show cover up??

Fortunately I was not as the display board eventually changed to Gate 58.

The first part of the journey was quite unremarkable. I was in cattle class which sometimes is a struggle for me as I am just under 6 feet tall and cannot always stretch my legs properly. I chose an aisle seat as it is easy for me to move about without annoying my seating companion next to me. For some bizarre reason my companion, whoever she was, kept the light on the whole trip. If I moved about in my seat she would give me an evil stare. I thought 'great' trust me to get the lunatic!!

What made it worse was that this person was also travelling to the UK. Fortunately, my trip from HK to London would be in a different seat.

I immersed myself in the films and tv shows on offer (I can recommend Hot Fuzz if you like quirky English comedy movies). Also, I did a few su-doku's to keep the brain active and forced myself not to think about the lunatic next to me.

The second leg of the trip was much better. I was seated next to a lady who was taking her two sons to Blighty. As I had done a similar thing last year with my girls we had something in common. This part of the journey was more relaxing. Only twice did I feel pity for the lunatic's new seating companion! Anyway, I played the online trivia game and blasted away all opposition (2 other people situated elsewhere in the plane). Trivia and I are definitely soul mates!

I slept for a few hours and arrived at Heathrow at about 5.20am. I queued up at the 'all other nationalities' queue with a number of Japanese, Chinese and other SE Asians. When it was my turn I got asked how long I was expected to stay in the country as I was an 'Aussie'. I wanted to point out that I was English but remembered that I was travelling on my Australian Passport. So I mumbled something about a few weeks and had my passport stamped accordingly.

I collected my suitcase and made sure that the lunatic was not near me for sanity reasons. Then I went through Customs and was into the main part of the airport. I was still a couple of hours away from my parents home but at least I was in England.

There was one thought, however, that I'll finish with. Every time I get off the plane at London the first British person I see is always a Sikh in a turban! Given that I am married to a Sikh that may not be a bad thing.

11 September 2007

More fun from Fortress Sydney!

"she was the only leader who could spell ‘existentialism’....he made Vladimir Putin and our Johnny streak down the corridors of the Intercontinental Hotel while singing ‘achy break heart’!

At last the APEC circus has departed good ol’ Sydney town and we can now get back to normal. All bar one of the leaders have paid their $4 for an airport trolley, loaded up their luggage, submitted the departure tax and have left Australia with their cuddly koalas, kangaroos and beef jerky. The leader who has pulled the short straw, however, is the Canadian PM who has stayed on for more talks with our PM John Howard, and also to collect more Australian soft toys (I recommend the wombat!).

The main conversational topic around the hot water urn in most offices revolves around what happened during the last couple of days of the APEC summit. The reason for this is that all the meetings were held behind closed doors.

Well, my avid readers, I can divulge what went on as I was privy to some confidential and, not so, confidential information!

Aside from the Chaser’s stunt, who made out that they were part of the Canadian motorcade and somehow getting through two security checkpoints before being discovered, there were plenty of things happening. Our Johnny, Dubya and co were certainly having a good time away from the media spotlight!

As suspected in my earlier blog ‘A PECuliar lockdown in Sydney’ the leaders were indeed having fun on Facebook. It is rumoured that Helen Clark won scrabulous as she was the only leader who could spell ‘existentialism’. Both Johnny and Dubya gave up at ‘exist’. Good news for the US President as he did manage to win the Texas Holdem strip poker night. In fact, he made Vladimir Putin and our Johnny streak down the corridors of the Intercontinental Hotel while singing ‘achy break heart’!

All the leaders took part in a ‘guess the leader’ quiz while drinking some homemade lemon squash made by Janette Howard (our PM’s beloved wife) and eating toasted marshmallows. Unfortunately, no-one was able to guess anyone correctly! Which is, I suppose, hardly surprising. When the clue ‘I am leader of the free world’ was given all 21 leaders shouted out in unison “that’s me!”.

One of the biggest questions was what would the item of clothing be that all the leaders would wear? Remember that it had to be typically Australian and that the garment was personally selected by our PM.

Given the dour nature of John Howard, it was no surprise when he presented all the APEC leaders with a plain coloured drizabone (rain coat) with a coloured lapel. John Howard wore his black plain drizabone with a red lapel and Dubya had his with a blue lapel. In truth, it was extremely bland and a tad embarrassing when you realise that Australia is the hottest and driest continent in the world! Maybe geography wasn’t a strong subject for our PM when he was at school.

The spouses of the leaders were being entertained by Janette Howard. They had lots of activities to keep themselves occupied while their other halves were busy. Janette held a crochet morning over tea and biscuits. All the spouses selected their favourite coloured wool and crocheted away while swapping their favourite food recipes and discussing their favourite home cleaning hints.

On the last day the spouses went to Bondi Beach and had some egg and cress sandwiches while watching a surf carnival. It’s rumoured that on the way back to ‘Fortress Sydney’ they all sang songs and clapped hands. Janette then handed them all a jar of homemade strawberry jam and a t-shirt with the message “I luv Sydney” on the front.

So there it is. The real happenings of the APEC summit as advised to me by a government insider.

Now we can finally get our lives back to normal once all the fences have been removed!

08 September 2007

Where has all the milk gone?

"is the house situated in the middle of a milk Bermuda Triangle?.....the other suspect is the family pet a 14 year old cockatiel"

One of the great things about being at home for an extended weekend (courtesy of the APEC summit - good onya lads!), is that you get an extra day to do whatever you want. Obviously that depends on what plans you have with other members of your family. At present my father in law is staying with us so that makes 5 people in the one household.

I mention the number of people living in our household for a very good reason that will become obvious later on.

As the long weekend was starting on Friday my father in law and I thought we would go to the nearest shopping centre on Thursday night and purchase some milk and cheese as we were not sure if any shops would be open on Friday. As it was late night shopping we didn't get to the supermarket until 8.30pm. Once there we were in and out in a flash. Well, not quite a flash, but more like 15 minutes!

We purchased nine litres of milk that should have easily been sufficient to see us through the long weekend. After all, even though my daughters (aged 5 and 4 years old) like milk they are not excessive drinkers of it.

I woke up this morning (Saturday) and went to the fridge to get some milk for my breakfast cereal. When I opened our ageing fridge door I noticed that there was only 2 litres of milk left. Straight away I thought that was strange. How could we have consumed 7 litres is a shade over 24 hours? Even stranger was that I knew that we hadn't been extravagant milk users yesterday. Obviously for breakfast and our beverage consumption we use milk - but never 7 litres of the fine white liquid!

I started to rack my brain (which was quite hard as my brain was in weekend mode and I was very tired). After a few minutes the realisation dawned on me that this was not the first time in the past few weeks that our milk consumption had been on the high side. The questions that needed answering were - where has all the milk gone? what do we do about this? is the house situated in the middle of a milk Bermuda Triangle?

My first thought was that maybe we need to buy a cow. Now this might sound strange but we are guzzling milk quicker than a car uses petrol! I am sure a cow in a suburbia might not be too strange given that people keep snakes and other similar reptiles (not that the cow is a reptile). I suppose the issue would be how do you milk it? I wouldn't have a clue! I am sure that there are answers to this on the internet so we might be okay with this option.

My second thought, and one that makes more sense, is that in the middle of the night someone is breaking into our house and rather than steal the television, camera, wallet or other valuable items have decided to drink copious amount of our milk. I must admit that they are doing an admirable job as they are extremely quiet and even shut the door without leaving any evidence behind them.

The only other suspect is the family pet - a 14 year old cockatiel called Victor. Somehow, unless he has had SAS training and knows how to get out of his cage, open a fridge door with his beak, drink the milk, fly back to his cage, get back in and act all innocent then he is in the clear. Mind you, I think I will be keeping a close eye on him for the next few days and monitor his actions.

Whatever the reason is it is certainly a mystery. Maybe the APEC leaders have been partying in the early hours of the morning at my place while I have been sleeping. Who knows?

Anyway, I had to go to the supermarket this morning and buy another 9 litres of milk. It will be interesting to see how long this lasts!

I'm off now for a nice cold milk and to look up the phone number of the nearest security company!