Saturday, February 1, 2014

It's elementary...

February already and I’m wondering where January went?  Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was trudging back into work following the bacchanalian excesses of the Christmas period?

And here we are, in February, with people pushing the ridiculous notion of “FebFast”, whereby you give up one of your reasons for living, namely alcohol or junk food.  I have never really got my head around people would want to do something of such absurdity.  Be miserable for a WHOLE month?  No thank you.  I mean, I could get knocked down by a bus at the end of the month and where would I be then?  Apart from dead, I would make a very melancholic corpse.

All the above said, the alcohol consumption has dropped off considerably now that I have readjusted to not having overseas visitors.  I’m not saying they drank a lot, but I secretly started googling “liver transplants”.  My lifestyle is still some way from monastic, but the bottle recycling is definitely getting visited less.

This month could a blog to replace the long running BBC film review show.  Maybe a homage to the art of movie going.  Barry Norman, or Jonathan Ross to the younger readers, would be impressed.

I have once again been to the outstanding Hayden Orpheum art deco cinema (The Book Thief 8/10), then had my first taste of Gold Class at Event Cinema (American Hustle 7.5/10) in the city (I may never return to the cheap seats.  Wine and food, brought to your seat, which, by the way, is only a bloody Lazy Boy seat!!), and completed the hat trick with a visit to the IMB Outdoor Sunset cinema (Anchorman 2 6/10) at the resplendent North Sydney Oval.  This was an experience that could have easily turned into a disaster, looking at the ominous storm clouds that hovered above. 

With no umbrella, not even a cheap one, let alone one of the kind that some ostentatious Sydneysiders pay hundreds of dollars for, had the rain arrived, I would have had to hastily extricate myself from quite possibly the comfiest bean bag I have ever sat on.  As it turned out, the rain held off and I was able to enjoy Anchorman 2, with my Crust pizza, burnt fig ice cream, and generous amounts of cabernet sauvignon.  Happy days.

A giant inflatable screen

As much as I love the cinema, I think I may have a month with a new box set, on the sofa at Cormack HQ.  Getting through the remainder of the Christmas booze.  See?  How impossible it is to consider the folly that is FebFast?

For my viewing delight this month “Sherlock” has been recommended to me, and as well as it being based in beautiful London town, who doesn’t love his inimitable sidekick, Dr Watson?  I just need to bribe a friend now to lend me a copy of the first series.  And I think I have just what I need, some “medicine for mummies”, in the form of bottles of Peroni.  Another reason why I’ve always loved the Italians.  Great beer to complement outstanding food.  Molto bene.

On that note, I will wrap up, and go treat myself to a cold drink (yes, before you ask, an alcoholic one) and put together a playlist for a mate.  I agree that The Clash, London Calling is a great track, but why on earth he wants Just Jack, Stars in their Eyes is beyond me.  Oh well, there is no accounting for taste, as they say.

Enjoy February folks.  Remember, it is only 28 days long so make the most of everyone of those days.  At the end, on March 1st, I will be back in the UK, and will no doubt be forced to drink again.

Maybe FebFast isn’t a bad idea after all!!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Year, But No Resolutions

Remember me?  I am still alive and well, for those that have been missing your regular update from the land Down Under.

It has been a while, and I can lay the blame at the door of a number of things, but let’s just say that the old adage of “time flies when you are having fun” is very much true.  Much fun has indeed been had.

Since we last caught up I have been through a birthday, Xmas, and another Sydney New Years Eve firework extravaganza.  Which were even better than last year if that is possible.  Admittedly, my birthday and Xmas were on the same day, but still.

I have had my summer holiday, with 2 weeks off work over Xmas and I’m not sure there is a better place in the world to spend it than Sydney.  The city comes alive with numerous pop up bars, festivals, street art, (very) long boozy lunches, and long leisurely hung-over brunches.

As if four bottles of the best sauvignon blanc wasn't enough, some people had to then move onto the cocktails.  Little wonder we managed to get asked to leave.  But by then we had left the Opera Bar and moved onto The Argyle, quite a classy establishment in The Rocks area of Sydney.  Had we been in the Salvation in Halifax I’m sure it would have been a very different story.  All in all, another great day.

I can't speak for the night though.  Due to not actually remembering much of it!   I’m not sure if this was a result of the aforementioned bottles of wine, or just too much sun.  But, strangely enough, I keep having dream like flash backs (and being kindly reminded) to performing some kind of nosedive.  Hmm, very strange :-)

Talking of my birthday, my friends, in their kindness, tried to secretly buy me a birthday cake in Woolworths.  I’m not kidding you, it was like a military operation planned by Benny Hill.  (Australian readers may want to check out You Tube).  I could almost hear the music playing as we chased each other around the aisles.  But what a lovely thought, the flaming galahs!

Last year, for my birthday, the weather unceremoniously pissed on my parade.  Almost quite literally.  Poured down all day.  Surely lightening couldn’t strike twice.  Right?  So big plans were made this year.  Little cute wine glass holder type things, for sticking in the sand holding your glass, an esky, new beach chair.  The whole shooting match. 

And yes, you guessed it!  Following being initiated into the Xmas Eve night tradition that is the “Home Alone” movie marathon (keep the change ya filthy animal) we once again ended up on Xmas morning with Bucks Fizz and a wet, distinctly British, BBQ.  I had very gratefully had some presents brought over from my family back home, and with my friends in my adopted country looking after me I managed to really feel like I could celebrate, despite being thousands of miles away from family.  That is one thing that is so important as an expat, making very good friends, who then become like a second family.

So we had rain again on my big day, but all is well that ends well and it did indeed end up being a fantastic day, with me cleaning up in various competitions including video games, and that old classic, charades.  Ok, I may not have actually won at Mario Kart (or even come a close second), but my efforts at charades took the limelight.  I think I should have been a thespian.  Never has there been a better mime of the film Psycho.

I’m pleased to say that the sun gods did shine on us for the rest of the holidays, enabling me to get my tan on.  And the weather was perfect for another trip into the Hunter Valley vineyards.  Although it is quite possibly the first time I have ever heard a wine tasting trip up there described as thus, "by 'eck, its like a white knuckle ride!".  Shurrrup!  And despite there being an abundance of good wines in the Hunter, I just don’t think there will ever be enough soda water for some people ;-)

I can’t end without saying that this time of year is usually a time of making resolutions.  I’m sure a few of you have made them.  I’m equally sure that some of you will have even broken some of them already.  Be honest.

I’m not making any as I feel that things are going good right now.  Through parts of last year you saw me sharing my homesickness with you.  Even deliberating about whether to return to the UK or not.  But for now, I am a lot more settled, and have even just accepted a 1-year extension to my contract at work.  Apologies to my long suffering work colleagues but for some time yet you will have to cope with my Monday morning moans about how badly my beloved football team have done over the weekend.  And surely you can’t dine out on your lucky Ashes victory for much longer, *crosses fingers*.

This doesn’t take the homesickness away, but I am having another trip home in 6 weeks so this will continue to alleviate it whilst I determine my rightful place in the world.  I’ll be having a flying visit for a couple of weeks, catch up with family and friends, including my gorgeous little niece who I unfortunately have not seen since I left the UK in 2012.  Then, rather excitingly, I will be returning home, with Ma Cormack in tow for her visit tour of duty in Australia.

My only concern for my trip to the UK will be the weather.  I have not had a European winter for 3 years so will need to put away my thongs and remember where I put my winter clothes.   The UK weather in March?   Anybody know the long term forecast?  Will I need to be hibernating in front of a roaring log fire with copious amounts of whisky?  Or will I be able to sip champagne in a hot tub? 

Answers by return please.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Schoolies for Toolies - Surfers Paradise 18 years on

You could put it down to a scheduling issue. Which, when you think about it, is quite embarrassing for a project manager.   But in my defence, I delegated the booking to my trusted lieutenant. I wasn't to know he would be bloody useless at it.

So this is how we found ourselves, 3 grown men, on the Gold Coast, at Surfers Paradise, bang at the start of schoolies week.  OK, further mitigation could be had that we are from the UK, and don't (didn't) have the foggiest idea what schoolies was.  My readers from the UK may want to Google it, then try and suppress your childish giggles. In town, with 30,000 schoolgirls, with our reputation!  (said in the manner of the Fast Show, aka Paul Whitehouse, just in case anybody reads that as a literal statement.)

When word got out at work, via my boss!, to the whole bank, via her boss, that I was off to schoolies, a week of constant piss taking followed.

Apparently, I would now be a toolie.  Somebody of an older generation who purposely goes to "observe" the (away from home for the first time) schoolies.  Have I got my hard hat? For unidentified flying objects being dispatched from windows.  It was even suggested, once I had explained what they were, that settees have been known to come out of the sky.  I said I'm not sure what helmets they sell but not sure any would save me from an errant flying settee!

Our, not so, salubrious lodgings!

Another theme was that I was going to be locked up.  For what, I could never really establish.  Tagged and having to remain at Mosman.  Deported.  Oh, I could go on.  That said, I did work out that it has been 18 years since I was last in Surfers Paradise, and most of the 30,000 schoolies hadn’t even been born then.

Yet, here I am, back in one piece, still a free man, without so much as a stain on my character.  And what a weekend it was.  Much better than I had actually anticipated, after all the hype about what carnage it would be.  As has happened before, I do wonder what a lot of Australian's frame of reference is.  Mine, for carnage, would be a night out around Liverpool or Newcastle (UK), where you could be lucky to get home in one piece.  Surfers, even for schoolies, was very tame by comparison.  Great fun, but tame all the same.

Being back in Sydney, and seeing some of the news headlines and coverage of it, I'm convinced it is all a result of media hype.  It is just a bunch of kids, being kids.  Letting off steam and enjoying some new found freedom.  And good luck to them I say.

Despite our weekend being very short, flying up straight from work on Friday, and back home on Sunday night, we had a great time and loads of laughs.  I'm not sure if some of the stuff, like random photos, was actually that funny, but it could have been the copious amounts of Guinness that lubricated the laughing gene.

What was funny was finding out about hidden desires to be a hairdresser.  A desire surely only let free as a result of the aforementioned alcohol.  I've asked the person involved never to admit this again to anybody.  Ever.  Yet, if you travel with him, the GHD straighteners and fancy hairdryer might just give the game away.

I think the world record for eating the most Twixes in one weekend was comfortably broken.  And they were all eaten by the same man.  Not me. 

I also met my very first ever people from Halifax...Nova Scotia in Canada.  Whilst whiling away a few hours, people watching in Kitty O'Shea's, we got talking to the barmaids, both of whom hail from Halifax.  And yet didn't know each other until they met at work in Surfers.  It just shows you how small the world is, and how we serendipitously meet people through our lives.  Fate, destiny, or just pure coincidence?  You decide.

Now we need to start thinking of where to take the tour next.  New Zealand and Bali are emerging as hot favourites, yet would need more than a flying visit.

We will keep thinking, but in the meantime, I am off to polish the bugle.  I could have a busy week ahead.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Who stole October?

Another month passes guys, and here we are in November.  As with each passing month now, it is my second of each since being here.  Arriving naive and wet behind the ears as an expat way back in August 2012.  This year seems to have particularly flown by, a fact brought sharply into focus when I think that I am in month 9 of my work contract.  Only 16 weeks left.  Then what?  Who knows.  Keeps me on my toes I guess, not really knowing what next year will bring.

October brought Halloween and all it’s associated commercial crassness.  Bah humbug you may be shouting at me, but to the childless amongst us, it definitely has less appeal,  So, no pumpkins at Cormack HQ and nothing scary perhaps apart from the fact that it is almost Xmas, ergo, I'm another year older.  Or is that younger.  Could I claim to be the new Benjamin Button?  

Something in my Twitter feed, claiming to be from Santa Claus, but I’m dubious it is really him, tells me that there are only 52 sleeps to Xmas.  That is a sobering thought.  I better get back to wok on that booze cupboard.  Following my last missive to you all I got asked whether the photo of all the booze I posted was just for Xmas morning!  Then again, that comment was from a dipsomaniac.

Following on from my great trip to Byron Bay recently, a couple of mates felt cheated that I went alone, as is my wont.  So, we have booked another trip, this time to Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast.  In a couple of weeks we will be flying up there straight from work and having a weekend of debauchery.  And being poms, and completely unaware, we can even be excused for choosing a notoriously bad time to go and get end up getting labeled “toolies”.  Friends in the UK, it’s an Aussie thing.  Just Google “schoolies week”.

The month of October seems to have come and gone in a blur of very long work days and late party nights.  If there is one takeaway from the month it is probably that drinking shots is no good for you.  Yeah, you probably already knew this.  Drinking 101, right?  But as I live a less Bacchanalian, more austere lifestyle this was news to me and has contributed to a few hazy mornings and a dangerously depleted bank account.

These shenanigans are likely to continue this week as on Tuesday it is Melbourne Cup day.  Reputed to be the horse race that stops a nation.  Not being big on the nags I never really understood all the fuss, but the nation is obsessed with it so I go along for the ride.  I watched it last year and it was like a poor man's Grand National, *ducks from abuse from proud Aussies*.

Tuesday at approximately 3pm will see us watching the race at work, with wine and nibbles, before de-camping to a local hostelry of choice to continue the festivities.  People get really dressed up and it has been fascinating to listen to the girls at work talk about fascinators.  To the blokes amongst us, these are the funny little “pretend hat” type things that girls wear to the races.  And often seen at weddings.  That the girls will pay the prices they charge for some of these things is fascinating enough for me.

However, contrary to popular belief, it is not all party party party over here.  It's not one long continuous episode of Geordie Shore.  I do other things than just get "mortal".  Honestly.  It I do.  The ying to that yang is that I have pushed myself even harder in the gym to compensate for this decadent lifestyle.  It helps to have some friendly competition to motivate you so me and a mate complete on number of gym visits, to be able to proudly claim to be #mostrecentchampion.  And despite my recent best efforts, I still have to claim the title back.  

Could this be the week? 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Byron Bay...Revisited...Again

It has been some years since I was last in Byron Bay.  I haven't been since I was a lad.  OK, that's probably not strictly true.  It is most likely not that long at all since my last visit, meaning I wasn't quite a lad.  But I'm still 19 in my mind, if definitely not in my body, so you see why I'm easily confused.

Byron Bay is located about 480 miles north of Sydney and is was a quaint little beach town with a somewhat hippy vibe.  The headland, Cape Byron, home to the lighthouse, is the easternmost point of mainland Australia.

The imminent arrival of a public holiday (read bank holiday for UK readers) prompted me to get on the very efficient JetStar website and book myself a cheeky little jaunt north.  

As early as the plane journey up you get a sense of what Byron is slowly turning into.  The stag and hen capital of the east coast.  Whilst trying to surreptitiously photobomb the pictures of a gang of girls sat immediately in front of me my cover was blown by one of the contingent.  Confessing to the nefarious nature of my actions we naturally got chatting and it was one of the those "that accent sounds familiar, where are you from?  Yorkshire?  Me too!" conversations.

It turns out the blushing (yeah right!) bride to be was from Doncaster.  When I said I was from Halifax I was accused of something that I don't think has ever happened before.  "Halifax, that's posh innit?".  Hmm, ladies, when was your last night out in Halifax?  Despite the best efforts of a makeover in Maggies.  And the introduction of the very good Riccis restaurant, to complement La Luna, I am still not sure that "posh" is an adjective that usually gets thrown around Halifax.

Knowing how small Byron is I feel that I may bump into these ladies in the kebab shop later ordering their obligatory cheesy chips for the walk back to their accomodation.

Following a very smooth 1 hour flight there was gorgeous weather on arrival at Balina-Byron gateway airport.  And a very efficient service at the airport had me booked on the door to door shuttle bus service from Steve's Tours ($35).

For this visit, I once again chose to stay in Belongil, a short 10 minutes walk along the perfect golden sands, whilst spotting multiple pods of cavorting dolphins, to the centre of Byron Beach.  Byron Beach Resort, previously Belongil Beach house backpackers was again my abode of choice.  A great hostel, with fantastic amenities and a great cafe (The Tree House) one side and a bistro the other.  

Belongil Beach Resort
Due to the arrival of daylight savings, Sunday arrived an hour earlier than usual.  Well, it didn't really.  I just put my watch forward by one hour.  But such is the vagaries of time.  I took advantage of the early start, and after breakfast I headed off on the walk up to Cape Byron, and the aforementioned lighthouse.  This is about a leisurely one hour walk, but boy was it worth it!  

Sometime ago in Sydney I went whale watching.  You may remember me mentioning it.  And that fact that there was no whales to watch.  Well, that morning, from Cape Byron, I must have seen about six or seven schools of whales.  Breathtaking.  Completely.  One of the moments in life that you just shut up and take in.  At moments like this, I really do stop and tell myself how fortunate I am in life.  Humbling.

The rest of Sunday was taken up with mooching around the monthly markets and then decamping to the awesome Beach Hotel for the Sunday session.  This was madness.  Like the Roxy nightclub of Sowerby Bridge had been transported some 11000 miles down under.  Full of slightly (or maybe very) drunk backpackers and Aussies dancing around like maniacs to a live band.  It turned out this was the pre-entertainment for the NRL Grand Final, which is the rugby league.  I must admit it all got a little bit tedious eventually, including the rugby, so I had a slow walk back along the beach, transfixed by the night sky.  Without the light polution of the cities, the stars you can see are mesmerizing.  Sort of thing I could lay back at stare up at for eternity.

The weekend was drawing to a close and despite only being away for 3 days I already didn't  want to return to the big smoke.  Trips like this, to little havens of paradise like Byron really makes you question whether you are in fact a city person or not.  I'm not.

I loved my 3rd visit to Byron and am already thinking of when I can next return.  And I know I will.  And that it won't be such a long hiatus this time.  A piece of my heart is left in Byron Bay.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens whilst you are making plans."  Man alive, is that ever true!  Probably the only time I have agreed with a scouser.

You trundle along, thinking you are making progress, then life, or more specifically people, throw you a curveball.  I suppose the challenge is in how you react.  I probably threw mum a curveball this week.  By casually dropping into our regular Skype call that she is coming to Australia in March next year.  Yes, I told her, rather than asked.  You see, ever since I was moving out here, and the whole time I have actually been here, she has been saying she will visit.  But she prevaricates.  And she let's all sorts of stuff run through her head.  About how hard the flight will be.  She will never be able to do it.  Etc etc.  Blah blah blah.

So, I took the proverbial bull by the horns and made the decision for her.  I'm thankful to report that she took it very well.  After a period of going a little dizzy and needing some fresh air, she returned to the little iPod screen they were Skyping on (yeah, seriously!) and said she would love to come. 

She now needs to get her head around it being extremely warm in March, and start picking up summer clothes bargains in the autumn sales in the UK.  

Mum, Mosman awaits.

It is now September.  Which can only mean one thing.  Well, probably a few actually, but only one that I am going to blog about. 

The start of Oktoberfest.  Yes, you read that right.  I've never really understood why by the great German beer festival that bears the name of October actually starts in September.  But there you go. It gave us a great excuse to go the Bavarian Beer Cafe in Crows Nest and join in the celebrations. 

And celebrate we did.  I think.  After much strong German beer, and the barmaid rigging the tombola so we got free shots, the night seemed to pass in a little bit of a blur.  Did somebody say mortalled?  
Thank you Victoria, we will be back.  But we probably won't wait until next September.

In a less inebriated fashion, answer me this.  How often do we praise the tax man?  Not often, right.  
However, I must take my hats off to the good ladies and gentlemen of the Australian Tax Office this month.  Submitting a tax return is mandatory for everybody in Australia.  What a bloody pain I thought.  However, I did the right thing, completed all the necessary forms, and off it went.  Imagine my surprise when some weeks later I got a whopping refund in my bank account!  Those are the kind of curveballs you can throw at me every week.

So, being the prudent Yorkshireman (NOT tight) that I am, the majority got squirrelled away for a rainy day.  And yes, it does rain a lot here.  The remainder I decided to spend on a good old-fashioned shopping trip.  The Xmas booze cupboard got fully stocked, and I even treat myself to a (very) early birthday present.  Bosh!

The question is, will it last??

The other thing of note this month was the pending expiry of my passport.  Something that I couldn't leave unaddressed.  So having attended my appointment at the post office, and handed over the best part of $300, I was left for a disturbingly worrying period where I was unable to travel anywhere but within the confines of Australia.  Granted, they are very, very big confines, but I still felt like I had a bit of cabin fever coming on until I received a parcel in the post that contained my new, 10 year, electronically chipped UK passport.  How I breathed a sigh of relief.  

I do have a weekend jaunt to Byron Bay next weekend (the long bank holiday) for which I don't need the passport, but I’m always looking to my next overseas trip.  My passport has turned out to be my most reliable friend.  The one that never lets me down.  I want this relationship to continue.

Have passport, will travel

I should finish this missive on a sporting theme.  But rather than address the recent football scores (or rugby for that matter – bloody South Sydney and the Burgess brothers), I will just touch on the rather excellent news that Fox Sports have just this week announced.  From this weekend, they have signed a deal and will show live games from both the Spanish La Liga and the Italian Serie A.  Could my weekends get any more perfect?  Well, actually, probably.  A little bit.  But, now I can have orgiastic sport filled weekends, the likes of which starts for me in about 30 mins with the Newcastle Knights taking on Sydney Roosters for a place in next weekends Grand Final.

Then we have Chelsea v Spurs, followed quickly by Man Utd’s game versus West Brom.  I will have a little time to sleep, then it is Real Madrid early in the morning.  Oh, and just to finish the weekend, I get to watch the progress of ex United player Paul Pogba in the live Juventus match.

I might be gone for some time…