Homesickness Not Required

Timehop reminded me this morning that three years ago I was about two weeks away from leaving the UK and that this fact, having suddenly hit me, was causing my emotions to be pretty messy. I suppose it was to be expected, aside from the thoughts of everything I was leaving behind, I had also, earlier in the week, put the majority of my possessions, packed into tea chests, onto a truck bound for a shipping container. I very much felt like I was in some sort of ‘limbo’; halfway between two lives. I’d done all the admin, all the packing, booked my flights, tidied everything up. Aside from saying goodbye to people I wanted to say goodbye to, I was ready to go.

During the previous couple of weeks I had spent most of my time busying myself with the packing and with the admin, but once everything was done, once I was able to just stop, it hit me: shit, this is really happening.

CNDWM_LUEAAEXmn

I had a couple of mini meltdowns, had episodes where I’d just break down into tears for no real reason and then after about five minutes I’d be fine. It was a strange time for me, emotionally.

Three years later, I feel very settled. That ‘limbo’ feeling is long gone – honestly I have never really felt it here. I expected to feel homesick perhaps, but I never have. Perhaps things like Skype help. but I’m sure it goes deeper than that. I feel no real desire to be in the UK. Sure I miss family and friends, and have a desire to physically be with them, but there’s not much about England itself that I long for, and as time passes, the UK feels ever more like a foreign country. When I’m there, of course, it feels like home, but being so far removed in my day-to-day life means that any associations with “home” are reserved now for people rather than the place.

On my last day in Leeds, I sat in City Square and cried, but now that feels so long ago, as though it were another life. I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope without the BBC, but I find myself only rarely catching ip with British TV shows on iPlayer, and I haven’t once in the last three years listened to Radio 1 online. I don’t feel that longing for supermarkets, the pub, fish-and-chip shops, British roads, the Pound, that I thought I would. I just feel settled.

A friend on Twitter said this, and it echoes my thoughts beautifully:

So perhaps that’s it. I don’t feel any longing for England because I have no need to long for it. Any time I want it, I can have it. Looking back three years, I wish I’d known it then. But even three years later, it’s a comforting thought.

 

follow me on Twitter: @supercroup

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Hotel Review! Rydges Esplanade, Cairns

It’s been a while, so I’m slinging something up here just so that it stays kind of almost active! More stuff coming soon, I hope. Anyway, we went on holiday last month, so here’s the review of the hotel we stayed at. It’s also on TripAdvisor and Yelp. But it’s my review, so it’s going on my site too! Jx

We arrived at Rydges Esplanade at around 7pm, to a rather unwelcoming check-in. We were unsure initially which of our names the room was booked under, and the reception clerk seemed irritated by this. After eventually figuring it out we were given our keys (two keys – not because there were two of us, but so we could use one to activate the electricity in the room) and told where our room was.

Aside from the cold welcome, we were never greeted on entry by either the concierge or the reception attendants (nor by anyone passing through the public areas of the hotel).

Our room on the third floor was well-sized and comfortable with a large balcony. The mattress on one of the beds was a little lumpy (we did not try the other bed), and the bed pushed away from the wall when sitting up in bed and leaning against the headboard. The bathroom was clean and well-equipped, and the water pressure in the bath, basin taps and shower was strong. The towels were, sadly, thin and not very soft – a standard that would have been acceptable in a 2* hotel, but not acceptable here. The room was serviced daily to a good standard, and the daily service was unintrusive.

The hotel’s public areas are generally clean and tidy, but rather outdated and in need of refreshing. The outdoor pool is large and very pleasant, and the surround is fully decked (a little splippery!) with adequate seating. The area is clean, comfortable and well-maintained, with plenty of seating and loungers. The swim-up bar (despite the service standards) was a bonus. The lobby toilets are in need of modernising: ceramic urinals would be more in-keeping with the image of a 4* hotel, as would either hand-dryers or paper towel dispensers – a pile of paper towels by the sink was clearly unacceptable.

Guest service in the hotel was seriously below standard, but there were a few positive episodes: we ordered room service breakfast on our first morning, and this arrived on time and as ordered. We also had a problem with our TV (it wouldn’t switch on) on the third night: we phoned reception and maintenance arrived within minutes and the problem rectified quickly.

Other areas of service were significantly substandard though. On our second morning we ordered simply two glasses of orange juice through room service. They were not delivered. When, later in the day, I went to reception to make sure we hadn’t been charged. This was confirmed, but I was offered no apology, and the reception attendant did not seem surprised by this.

The lobby bar service was a thoroughly odd and largely frustrating experience. We arrived at the bar on our first night at 9:50 pm to be told by the bartender that he “had served his last drinks”, but he would “sort us out” and arranged drinks for us. He continued to tell this to people arriving at the bar for almost an hour, adding that we would be able to order drinks through room service all night. Being made to feel that the bartender was somehow doing us a favor by serving us before closing time was patronising and rude. We also discovered that “all night room service” was a lie as we attempted to order wine through room service the following night only to be told that the hotel only had a liquor licence until 10 pm and they could not serve any alcohol after that.

Bar service was very slow at all times, and the staff were not knowledgeable about drinks, and their technical ability was below standard. On occasion the service was altogether too casual for a 4* hotel (one evening the bartender was clearing rubbish with a trolley, and on her way by our table shouted “how’s your martini love?”). There seemed to be a constant emphasis on closing time: during every transaction we were told what time the bar was closing, or that it would soon be closing, or that it had already closed and we were lucky to be being served.

Dining was a similarly bizarre experience: we only had lunch once and again the service was slow, and staff lacked knowledge. On enquiring about the curry of the day our waitress initially did not know what it was, but returned some time later to tell us that it was lamb korma but she didn’t know what that was. The food we did order (a wrap, sliders and olives from the tapas menu) was clearly not made in-house. The wrap was unpleasant, although the sliders and olives were really good.
Overall it is such a shame that a hotel in a location that is quiet but still close to the city with what are excellent, if outdated, facilities including a beautiful pool area cannot get the basics of guest service right. We won’t be returning.

Flippin’ ‘eck! It’s Pancake Day!

Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras; call it what you will. It is one of my favourite food-based celebratory days (after, of course, Burns Night and Eid). But it barely exists in Australia.

First, I’ll get the necessaries out of the way: yes, Shrove Tuesday is a Christian feast day; no, I’m not a Christian. To me, the day has become entirely secular, sadly commercial, and most definitely pancake day.

I made a statement yesterday saying that in Britain, Pancake Day is nearly as big as Christmas. Now, obviously that is not true, but my point was that everybody knows about it, and if you have forgotten the date, the shops will remind you. Happily it hasn’t (yet) got the commercial level of Valentine’s Day or, say, Mothers Day where there are greetings cards and merchandise, but for the week leading up to Pancake Day, the displays in supermarkets are made up of flour, sugar and bottled lemon juice (and only fellow Brits will know what a Jif Lemon is!).

762px-Jif_Lemon

In England, on pancake day, everyone has pancakes for tea. Not for breakfast – don’t be absurd. Families gather round the frying pan to witness the disappointing “test pancake” and marvel at the first flip. Naturally, flipping pancakes is an art form and all but the truly gifted can flip without the pancake either getting stuck to the ceiling, landing on the floor, or falling back into the pan in a crumpled heap. That said, turning pancakes in a manner other than flipping is contrary to national interests.

Pancake Day is also a wonderful day because it is the only day where you can have a main course and dessert for dinner that are both the same thing. Savoury pancakes followed by sweet pancakes. GLORY!

Now. Australia. You have a lot to live up to. And you fail miserably. First, through a selection of tweets pictures, and other things, let’s examine the situation.

If you have forgotten the date, will the shops remind you?

No. There are no special offers on flour, eggs, and milk. Sales of buttermilk do not increase thousand-fold. The market is not saturated with Jif Lemons.

Still, everyone at least knows about it, right?

Wrong.

I went into work on Tuesday morning and exclaimed “It’s Pancake Day!” Everybody (no, literally everybody) asked what the hell Pancake Day is, and one colleague even suggested:

Can’t you just have pancakes on whatever day you like?

It was distressing that nobody shared my joy about pancakes. Nobody else was going to have pancakes for dinner. I even turned to Twitter in the hope of finding somebody who knew that Pancake Day is a real thing. The response?

My Pancake Day Celebrations

With all of that said, I wasn’t going to let any of that get me down too much: I was going to go home and eat pancakes. Which I did.

First up, a crash course in pancake making, courtesy of Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson. Actually that’s a lie because I use my own recipe for basic English pancakes (which I admit is based on Delia’s), which I refer to as the two-four-ten. And then on with the cooking.

I thought I’d make a pancake variation on a Mexican classic – enchiladas. I call them pancakechiladas. Ridiculous perhaps, but delicious. The recipe is based on Delia’s – here – but I added kidney beans to the salsa, and used freshly-made crêpes instead of tortillas. Here are some photos of the process:

IMG_0577IMG_0578IMG_0580IMG_0581

They were actually quite good, but looked a bit messy. Dessert was Nigella’s Red Velvet Pancakes (made with buttermilk) and a blueberry compôte that I threw together.

So, in the end, I did have my pancakes. And not a Jif Lemon in sight!

follow me on Twitter: @SuperCroup

Image of Jif Lemon by Paul Hurst.

Tea Party for One

In a previous post I discussed my love of tea, and what is the perfect accompaniment to tea? Biscuits, of course! Dunkable or otherwise, a cup of tea and a biscuit is always delightful. Happily, that is equally true in Britain and Australia: tea and biscuits. I suppose it does make sense, rather than being an English curiosity. Even more happily, the blends of tea that are available are pretty much the same: English Breakfast (and the similar (and I hope ironically named) Australian Afternoon), Earl Grey etc.

However, the varieties of biscuits are vastly different. I’ll be blunt: I don’t really like Australian biscuits (bar a couple). I’m not sure if that’s because I genuinely don’t like them, or if it’s because I miss my beloved English biscuits. I suspect it’s a bit of both, but in any case I thought I’d try to find out with a scientific* experiment.

Before we get to the details of the experiment, however, a run down of some of my favourite biscuits that are available in England, but not here.

English Biscuits

rich tea

Rich Tea

Rich tea biscuits are very, very boring, and are the staple English biscuit. My Grandma always had these biscuits, and that’s probably the only reason I like them. They’re not all that good for dunking because they fall apart and collect in the bottom of the tea cup, but if you do manage to get a decent dunk, they soak up the flavour of the tea, and this the only way to make them even vaguely enjoyable.

There is a type of biscuit called Rich Tea available in Australia. These biscuits are quite different, and I discuss these below.

hobnob

Hob Nobs

Hob Nobs are made by McVities, and they are the most amazing things in existence. Obviously, the only ones worth eating are chocolate Hob Nobs. They’re oaty and crunchy and delicious. In L.A. I was willing to pay up to $12 for a packet of Hob Nobs. Alas, they are not available in supermarkets here, and I’m not prepared to go in search of a British shop, so I have to go without.

Pink Wafers

Wafer biscuits are available here: vanilla wafers, chocolate wafers, and strawberry wafers. What is not available, however, are pink wafers: those wafer finger sandwiches with cream in the middle. They are bright pink and don’t seem to have any actual flavour other than simply pink. I remember them from play school, and I think that perhaps they are children’s biscuits, but sometimes children’s biscuits are the best! Which leads me to…

party rings

Party Rings!

Oh yes! These are brilliant. They are definitely children’s biscuits because, well look at them. The main ingredient is, I think, food colouring, followed my sugar and then more food colouring. They come in a variety of flavours: pink, yellow, pinky-purple and fluorescent brown.

in essence, the actual biscuit is crap. It’s a very plain biscuit, but it is the brightly-coloured icing that makes them awesome. Definitely for children’s parties, but also a favourite at parties I went to as a student. I love the retro 80’s feel of these. But they just don’t exist here. People are also a little horrified when I describe them. I can’t imagine why.

Bourbons

I won’t go into too much detail, because these are a very basic chocolate sandwich biscuit. Similar things are available here, but they’re not called bourbons, and I think it is the name, rather than the actual biscuit I like.

The Scientific* Experiment

Okay, so not really a scientific experiment, but rather an afternoon session of me sitting and eating biscuits. Now, I did actually do it properly: I put out the biscuits on a nice plate, made a pot of tea, and tested each one, considering flavour, crunch and dunkability.

Shopping

A Packets

Arnott’s in Australia is basically what McVitie’s is in the UK. Now for this experiment, I splurged a bit and I bought Arnott’s. I could have got Woolworth’s own-brand, but I figure these wouldn’t have been as good, and I might have been accused of not conducting the test fairly. I also bought a pack of Anzac biscuits made in-house by Woolworth’s, and Rich Teas by Paradise biscuits, as Arnott’s rich tea either don’t exist, or aren’t available in my local Woolie’s.

The Party

B Plated upC Ready to Go

Like I said, I put the biscuits on a plate, as civilized people do, made a pot of tea (Yorkshire Tea, of course!), and sat down and started eating. Actually, it seemed rather daunting, the sight of all those biscuits, and knowing that I was going to have to eat them all. But first, a cup of tea to warm up my biscuit-eating muscles.

01 Tea

The Plain Biscuits

Nice and Milk Arrowroot

02 nice03 arrowroot

Nice aren’t particularly Australian, but they were included in the family pack of biscuits that I bought, so I thought I’d try them. They’re plain, but with a pleasing crunch. They dunk well, and the sweetness comes out when dunked.

Milk Arrowroots are very much like English Rich Teas, although they are oval instead of circular. They fall apart when dunked, and are an excellent option for a soggy biscuit.

04 choc ripple

Choc Ripple

Just a plain chocolate biscuit, with quite a nice texture. A good chocolate flavour, but it does not dunk well. I think it would probably dunk better in coffee, but the biscuit spoils the taste of the tea, and the tea spoils the taste of the biscuit.

This one definitely tasted chocolatey, which is unusual for commercially-produced chocolate biscuits that don’t have a chocolate coating or chocolate cream.

05 scotch

Scotch Finger

I don’t like Scotch Fingers really. They’re definitely Australian though. Essentially, they’re a shortbread biscuit, but not not nice like Scottish ones. These are very dense, and when chewed they sort of clump together in your mouth.

Sadly, they didn’t pass the dunk test either. There was no improvement to either texture or flavour by dunking in tea.

05 scotch dunk

06 teddy bear

Teddy Bears

A very disappointing biscuit. This is clearly a children’s biscuit, and going on this one might think that Australians do not like children or want them to have fun. This doesn’t even come close to the Party Ring or even the Pink Wafer. It is very plain, hardly even sweet. It’s an unpleasant dunker, falling apart quickly and finding itself at the bottom of the cup.

07 butternut snap

Butternut Snap

Now these are very nice biscuits. They come close, but not quite close enough, to Hob Nobs. They have a really good crunch and oaty texture, with a very smooth, buttery flavour. They dunk well (and from experience I know they dunk really well in coffee), and they hold their texture when dunked.

Milk Coffee & Rich Tea

09 milk coffee12rich tea

There is not much good to say about either of these biscuits. The milk coffee is very very plain, much like the teddy bear, but without even a fun shape. It totally disintegrated when I dunked it, and I had to fish out bits of it with a teaspoon.

The Australian version of the Rich Tea is very odd indeed. It’s completely different from the English biscuit. The texture is that of a tougher arrowroot, but it has a horrible orangey flavour that becomes really quite bitter, and dunking only makes it worse. It’s dotted with chewy currants too, which are really quite nasty. I will not be buying these again.

11 anzac

The Anzac Biscuit

Anzac biscuits are most definitely Australian, and they are gorgeous! The texture is chewy, but oaty, and they have a really good buttery flavour. They’re made with coconut, but the ones I had today didn’t really have a flavour of coconut. They are, however, still delicious.

Australia may produce some dodgy biscuits that make me pine for a Fox’s selection tin, but all is forgiven with the Anzac biscuit.

The Cream Biscuits

10 timtam

Tim Tams

I first heard about Tim Tams in 2009, and had an American licensed version of them shortly afterwards. They are really really nice, and not liking them is unAustralian apparently.

The thing they most compare to in the UK is the Penguin, although the actual biscuit part of Tim Tams is quite a bit softer, and the cream creamier. The only negative I have to add is that the chocolate is a little too sugary, but I should bear in mind that I had by this point already eaten a lot of biscuits, so my mouth was likely FULL of dissolved sugar.

Monte Carlo & Delta Cream

13 monte carlo16 delta open

The Monte Carlo is really nice. It looks crunchy, but really it isn’t. The cream is almost marshmallowy, and the raspberry jam around the outside of the cream is a really nice surprise. The Delta Cream is a lot like an Oreo, but not as chocolatey. Actually it’s not chocolatey at all. The cream is also very sugary, and although it is supposed to be vanilla cream, it doesn’t have any flavour at all. Disappointing.

14 orange slice

Orange Slice

Now, I’m not really a lover of orange flavoured biscuits; it makes no sense to me, so it’s not surprising that I didn’t like these. That said, the orange flavour was not very strong. The biscuit had no real crunch either. A really disappointing biscuit.

17 kingston

Kingston

The Kingston is a really very pleasant biscuit. It’s very much like two butternut snaps with chocolate cream in the middle.

The biscuit has a really good crunch and a pleasant oaty texture, and the chocolate cream was a nice surprise. It wasn’t that hard, flavourless chocolate cream, but rather almost like gooey melted chocolate. I could eat lots of these biscuits!

19 more munching

Shortbread Creams

Honestly, these are horrible. They have no flavour whatsoever, and the texture is not pleasant. The shortbread is like soft sand, and lacks that buttery flavour that Scottish shortbread has. The cream is sugary, but has no clear flavour.

I’ll be avoiding these.

The Conclusion

There are plenty of good things to say about biscuits in Australia, but I do miss my English favourites. My definite favourite out of all of these is the Anzac biscuit, but from the Arnott’s selection, either the butternut snap or the Kingston was in the top spot.

After all of these biscuits, I did feel rather sick, and I got a head rush from all the sugar, but I suppose it WAS in the name of research. And a tea party for one was a lot of fun!

follow me on twitter: @supercroup

Image credits:

Party rings photo:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mattbuck
mattbuck

Rich Tea (English) photo:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Xyrael?uselang=en-gb
Sean Whitton

I Wish These People Would Speak English

This is the obligatory post about linguistic differences. I’m sure there’ll be many more, so I’ll rephrase that and say that this is the first obligatory post about linguistic differences.

I’m actually very lucky to have moved to a country where the main language is English because I speak English. I’m not stuck in a place where I struggle to express myself, and I don’t have to go to language classes so I can function in wider society. I’m definitely not an advocate of forcing everyone to speak English, but that is Australia’s immigration policy, so I consider myself very very privileged because English is my Mother Language. It also puts me in a position where I pick on on nuances in Australian English, and I can have fun playing with the differences.

It’s also infuriating. There are occasions where I’ll say something and it’ll be met with blank stares or confused looks; often I’ll get the blunt response of ‘I have no idea what you just said’. I’m going to write a bit about a couple of them here.

This certainly isn’t intended to be the start of a translation dictionary, just a few British-isms that have left me in a state of not being understood over the past couple of years. I’ll add that some of them are definitely Yorkshire, but I’m including them here because, unlike in the UK where I’ll use them and be understood but laughed at as an Incoherent Northerner, here they make literally no sense at all.

The Hoover

01 Hoover

Okay, this first one is a bit of a cheat, and is definitely a well-known British-ism. Apart from the most snobbish families, The British call vacuum cleaners hoovers (with a small ‘h’). Everywhere else in the world, Hoover (with a capital ‘h’) is an electronics/domestic appliances brand; a company that happens to produce a range of vacuum cleaners as well as dishwashers, clothes dryers and other stuff.

We Brits take it further, however. Hoover is not just the name of the appliance; it’s also what we do with it: it’s a verb as well as a noun. We hoover carpets. We do the hoovering (or on a more ridiculously Northern scale, we do the hoovering up). It’s really not a big deal, but every time I say it – every time – nearby Australians double up with laughter and claim they have no idea what I’m talking about.

Time for a quick story perhaps. When we first moved into this unit we were out shopping. We passed a shop with a big sign in the widow that said: “30% off Hoover”. I said to Scot, “Look. Let’s have a look in there cos we need a hoover!” He replied with the necessary disdain, explaining to me that the sale only included Hoover-branded appliances, and that this shop didn’t actually sell vacuum cleaners.

A place to buy booze

04 off licence

Here are three words that just do not exist in Australian English:

  • Off licence
  • Off sales
  • Beer-off

I’m slowly beginning to accept the word “bottle shop” (or as my Dad hilariously calls it, the “bottle bank”), but it’s taking a lot of strength to do so.

I’m planning to write a full and in-depth post of the differences in drinking culture, pubs, bottle shops and beer between Australia and England, but in terms of bottle shops/off sales, linguistically it ends there.

Dinner at lunchtime

02 lunch

Here’s a good Yorkshire one. It shocks people from the south of England that in The North we call our evening meal “tea”. It shocks English people that a sizeable number of Aussies also refer to their evening meal as “tea”. Naturally, this was some comfort to me, and I (foolishly) assumed that the names of all the other meals would marry up with what we call them in Yorkshire.

Not so. In Australia (along with the rest of the civilized world) the meal in the middle of the day is called lunch. Now, obviously I am not such a heathen that I have never heard the word, but where I grew up, the name of the meal in the middle of the day is dinner. Causing endless hilarity when talking to people from elsewhere. No, but really, this usage doesn’t exist here in Australia, so every time I absentmindedly use it, it genuinely causes confusion. After a couple of years here I’m definitely more conscious of what I call meals, but occasionally I’ll slip back into Yorkshire mode, ask what’s for dinner at lunchtime, and people look at me like I have two heads.

When?

I’ll keep this one brief.

Michael: Would you like a piece of cake?
Me: No thanks, I had my dinner not long since.
Michael: Wait, does that mean you’ve just had your dinner or that you’re going to have it soon.
Me: *rolls eyes*

Maybe. Just maybe.

Another Yorkshire one, I think. But it’s one of my favourite usages and I’m determined to continue using it, despite the pressure from everyone to stop doing so: the wonderfully curious use of the word happen to mean perhaps.

Example:
Happen it’ll rain tomorrow.

Now this is a legitimate use of the word, but it is most definitely dialect, which is perhaps the reason I love it so much. It does cause some confusion, but I don’t care. I love it!

Bread

03 breadcakes

I’m playing with fire here because I’m guaranteed to get angry messages from people (mainly English people), and this is another one that is definitely Yorkshire, not just British, but for me, a small round loaf of bread is a breadcake.

Now, as usual, this is another one that other English people understand but pretend not to and I am aware that in England there have been wars fought over what to call small round loaves of bread, but here they actually don’t understand what I mean by a breadcake.

As far as I know, here it’s a bread roll. Perhaps just a roll. I don’t know. In my head that just doesn’t make sense and never will. Unlike happen this is one that I really do want to shake off, but it just won’t happen. The association between the object and the word is too deep in my brain, so I fear this will forever be a linguistic stumbling block.

Like I said, this is likely to be the first post of many, and I’ll try to write up some Australian words and phrases that have confused me while I’ve been here eventually.

Follow me on twitter: @SuperCroup

An Object that Makes Me Feel at Home

This was another prompt from the Expat Blog Challenge, and at first it looked like a really straightforward one. But as I thought about it, I realised it was a bit more ambiguous than at first glance: was it asking for an object that reminds me of home, reminds me of the place I came from, or should I find an object that makes me feel like this is my home?

It makes me really think about the concept of ‘home’. Is home a place? Is it a feeling, a memory? People and relationships? Can we only have one home? I think it’s all of those things and a lot more.

If someone calls me and I’m in my apartment, I’ll say I’m ‘at home’. When I leave work for the day I’m ‘going home’. But I’ll relay memories of my childhood by saying ‘when I lived at home’, and I’ll talk about England using the word ‘home’. I’m reminded of the phrases ‘home is where the heart is’ and ‘wherever I lay my hat is home’, and although they may seem contradictory, I think they’re both very true.

So I took on the challenge, and went in search of objects that made me think home.

Yorkshire Tea

Tea

We Brits have a reputation for drinking tea. And lots of tea. Tea for all occasions. Tea is the English equivalent of champagne, or something like that. Anyway, true to our reputation, I like tea and I drink a fair bit of it. This is my box of one hundred Yorkshire Tea teabags.

Here’s the irony: in England I would never buy Yorkshire Tea. In England I only ever buy Tetley’s. Even as a student I would splurge on tea, buying only Tetley’s (quite the opposite of a prospective romantic partner I once had: all thought of romance was lost when I discovered he bought Asda Smart Price teabags, and dried them out on the radiator so he could re-use them!). But in Sydney, I buy Yorkshire Tea. I don’t know if it’s to assert my Yorkshire-ness, or because the word ‘Yorkshire’ invokes homely emotions, or simply because I’m amazed it is available, but in Sydney I most definitely buy Yorkshire tea.

My one gripe is that it comes in boxes of 50, 100 or 150, when we all know that teabags come in multiples of eighty. I even had that dilemma in the supermarket the first time, with the thought “but what if you only want eighty”. I suppose I’ll always be English!

The Front Loader

Washer

If you have read my blog or have ever got into any serious conversation with me, you’ll know I have something of a fetish for washing machines. Indeed, I wrote a (rather lengthy) discussion on the status of washing machines in Australia, so I will try to be brief here, but in case you didn’t read it (and I can’t imagine why you would miss such scintillating writing), the norm in Australia, in terms of washing machines, is top loaders.

I am very clear about my dislike of top loaders, so when it came to purchasing a washing machine when we first moved into this unit, I was very clear that we absolutely had to have a front loader: no questions, no discussion, it simply had to be a front loader. And this is it. It’s actually a pretty good model and we paid a fair amount of money for it, but the point is it makes me feel at home, and for a couple of reasons. First off, it’s ours. I spend years and years living in rented accommodation that came, as standard, with a washing machine (and usually a crap one). The unit we live in now is still rented, but the washer is ours, and my bizarre fetish kicks in when I see it and feel a flash of pride about actually owning a washer.

Secondly, it’s that English thing again. It doesn’t quite fit in with the Australian way of life. I’m not saying it’s totally wrong, but it’s not totally right either. It’s a bit of a curiosity, and again, that white box with a round hole in the front is definitely me asserting my Englishness.

Kitchen Stuff

WhishAndDrainer

I’m fairly sure Scot is driven to insanity by the range of kitchen utensils that I “absolutely have to have”, and these two – the mini whisk and the can drainer – are probably top of the list. To most people I’m sure they seem ridiculous, but to me they are a necessity.

In terms of homeliness though, these also belong very firmly in my mother’s kitchen.

My mother’s kitchen is full – and I mean full – of all and any utensil imaginable. The mini whisk is positively softcore compared with her avocado slice/scoop thing and the curious ceramic ‘hands’ whose function (and only function I think) is for picking up spaghetti. But the mini whisk just reminds me of something that one absolutely has to have in the home kitchen.

The can drainer is also a reminder of home – again I think the only other place I have ever seen one is at Mum & Dad’s house. I think Scot’s comment of “why can’t you just use a sieve like normal people” sums up the reason for this, but for me this is an item I have to have in any home that is mine.

Jewellery

Jewellery

I don’t wear a lot of jewellery, but these two were gifts from family, and both for my 18th birthday. The left is my Raymond Weil watch in white, yellow and red gold from Mum & Dad, and the right is a silver bracelet from my sister. Sadly my body has grown a little in size in the last twelve years, and the watch no longer fits around my wrist, but the bracelet still does and I wear it pretty much every day. It’s a bit tarnished because I don’t take it off to shower or sleep, and it’s taken a bit of a bashing over the years.

As I mentioned at the start, home isn’t necessarily just a place – home is people and family, so I don’t love these pieces of jewellery superficially and just because they’re shiny, but because they are connected with family, and they remind me very much of home.

The Baby Booties

Shoes

These shoes saved my life. I bought these shoes from Shelly’s in Oxford Circus (London) in April 2003, and I fell in love with them the moment I saw them. They are now battered up, scuffed, worn, with the soles hanging off, but I am still very much in love with these shoes.

In 2003 I wore them with everything, regardless of whether or not they actually matched the outfit. My housemate (and best friend) hated them and referred to them as “the baby booties”. I didn’t care – my feet belonged in them. I had a strong relationship with these shoes, and on one occasion, I remember (or at least was told about) sitting on the footpath outside The Cockpit nightclub in Leeds, very drunk and having a deep conversation with these shoes.

My feet still belong in these shoes. Whenever I put them on, every memory of ever having worn them floods back – from the night out we had the day I bought them, limping back to the hostel eating chips and doughnuts, to the last time I wore them – the other week in Sydney. When I was packing to move here, I had to make tough decisions about what to keep and what was destined for the charity shop or the bin, and there was definite downsizing involved in the shoe department, but there was never a question about these shoes. As far as my feet are concerned, these shoes are home.

Heaven Can Wait

HeavenCanWait

God, I hated this picture at first, and for a long time. It used to hang on the wall above the TV in the back room at Scot’s Mum’s, which was our hanging-out room when we lived there. I hated it from the moment I saw it, and I spent many months wanting to rip it from the wall and do bad things to it.

Things have changed now though. After having spent months – well, years – looking at it, I like it a lot. And not just in an “it’s grown on me” way; I like the content. I love the image, and I love the message it sends. But more importantly, at least for the purpose of this post, is that it makes me feel at home. This picture now hangs on the wall in our lounge room, and I absolutely love it. It’s also a reminder that home is as much the place I am accepted and loved, as it is the place I live.

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Opal: Oyster’s Latest Sibling

I’m a lover of public transport: trains in particular and, more specifically, mass transit systems. Sadly, I have to say, I am not a lover of Sydney’s public transport system. It is slow, inefficient, expensive. There aren’t enough stations. I could go on, but this isn’t a critique on Sydney’s public transport system.

From twitter. Don't know who the original poster was.

The latest exciting development, however, is Opal. It is a contactless smartcard system for paying for your fare on trains, buses and ferries. It’s revolutionary! It’s so new! Unless, of course, you’ve been, well, anywhere else in the world.

I mock, of course, but this technology has been in use in other places around the world for near-on twenty years. Naturally, I compare it with London’s Oyster system, which has been in place for over ten years, so while I impressed that Sydney is (finally) embracing the future (!), we are very late to the party – and in fact implementing this “new” technology when it is really on the way out.

When I first came to Sydney in 2010 I was actually very surprised that the public transport network didn’t have anything similar to Oyster, and really, until this year, paper tickets were all that existed. Paper tickets, and a relatively disjointed transport system, with fares that were difficult to understand, “zones” that were not all that easy to understand, and the way it was communicated assumed that every single journey you would ever make either started or ended at Central station (or Circular Quay if travelling by ferry). It was, and remains, infuriating.

Paper tickets, of course, still remain, and they will for a long time. Visitors need them. People used to buying Quarterly or Annual season tickets will continue to do so, either out of familiarity or for budgeting reasons. For me, however, paper tickets are definitely a thing of the past now that I have my Opal card.

Luckily, we  live within a two minute walk of the nearest station, which is on the Northern Line. If ever we go into the City, we go by train (Scot works in the City, so uses the train every day). Opal is being rolled out progressively, and last month the Opal card readers appeared on the platform at our station, and were activated soon after.

Now, I don’t actually go into the City all that often, and up until now I have been put off because of the (albeit slight) inconvenience of the ticket system. The ticket office at our station is normally closed (at least when I want to travel), and up until a few months ago the ticket machine on the platform didn’t take debit or credit cards – cash only (and obviously with no ATM nearby). But now and then I do go into the City, so once Opal was activated on the Northern Line, I applied for an Opal card.

The online application process was easy and painless (although I note that you do have to apply online or over the phone. Irritatingly, you can’t go to a ticket office or anywhere else), and I received my Opal card and ‘starter pack’ in the mail about a week later (I have already posted a “review” of one element of the starter pack). Just like a bank card, you have to go to the website to activate the card, and I’m actually really surprised at how easy the website is to use. It’s a sad thing to have to say, that I was expecting the site to be difficult to navigate, but it’s really easy. Easy to find answers to questions and, my favourite part, it’s easy to review journeys that you’ve made (privacy concerns aside, I do actually like this feature – although having your every move tracked isn’t for everyone!).

I’ve done a couple of journeys with Opal so far: one into the City in the evening and one during the day to our closest shopping centre. Having used Oyster in London, I wasn’t expecting it to be much different, and it really isn’t. You tap on at the start of your journey and then tap off at the end. Simple. And for me, it’s much easier that trying to insert a ticket (and often a crumpled one!) into a slot at the barrier.

Alas, there are a few things that drive me insane with the system. The first is topping up. I’ve set my account to auto top up, which means my card is linked to my bank account, and when my balance drops below $10, it instantly tops up by $40. Not everyone has the luxury of a bank account that allows that, but you can top up at selected shops. Frustratingly (and inexplicably), you can’t top up your Opal card at station ticket offices or at ticket machines – and I’d have thought that station ticket offices would be the most logical places to offer top-up facilities.

The progressive rollout, especially with buses, irritates me a lot too. I suppose I understand that they want to get it right, and catch problems quickly instead of having major issues with a fully rolled-out system, but then Sydney is not the first city to introduce this sort of system (not by a long way). I’m frustrated that the roll-out on buses is especially slow. I don’t use buses very often, but I think I would (or indeed will) once Opal is fully activated on all Sydney buses.

As I’ve mentioned too, the technology and the system feels dated. It’s often said that Australia is twenty years behind the rest of the world, and although mostly I don’t agree, in this case it’s true. Perhaps not twenty years, but this sort of system does seem to be on the way out, as contactless debit & credit cards really are taking centre stage. London is moving towards that technology and away from Oyster, and although there are reasons why that might not be ideal for everyone, smart card technology, restricted to its own system, not compatible with other transport networks’ smart card systems already feels dated.

All in all though, it’s a new system, and it’s growing. And I like it. I’m sure I’ll use public transport more and more because of it, and that can only be a good thing. There are drawbacks, but as the system does become accepted, I’m sure there will be ways to load periodical tickets onto the Opal card, and I’m sure there will be ways to travel anonymously. I’ll watch it grow, and I have high hopes. But whatever happens I’m sure I’ll be encouraged to use public transport much more.