Monday, June 15, 2009


1749 words written out of 3000. My Russian music history essay is well on its way, but I can’t quite face it yet this morning.
Instead I feel like penning (or typing) some thoughts and feelings, as I only have two weeks and one day left in Australia. I feel a bit sick when I think about leaving because I’ve had such an awesome experience out here, but there have been times throughout the year when I’ve looked at the 29th June in my diary and wanted it to come around faster.

Two occasions in particular spring to mind. The first was when landing back in Sydney after being in New Zealand for Christmas. I cried as the plane hit the runway because I wanted to be landing back in London. After going on holiday you usually get to go home afterwards. Much as I adore Sydney, I have never thought of it as home; perhaps because it’s always been a temporary residence in my mind. It has always had a time limit.

The second big bout of home sickness occurred about three months ago when the weather turned colder. In England, that means we get festive celebrating first Halloween, then Guy Fawkes night, and then Christmas and New Years. We collect conkers, crack out the fireworks, have bonfires, eat soup…but here in Sydney things just carried on as normal with an extra jumper to keep warm. I did a lot of nostalgic cooking that month, recreating my mum’s classic recipes for a piece of home.

It will be interesting to see how I feel in a few months time back in the UK. Will I get Sydney sick? I expect so. There are so many places and people here that I feel affectionate towards. It’s been a big part of my life, and I think I’ll struggle.

For now, I just have to enjoy my last fifteen days. My favourite sushi place shut down last week, so the timing feels about right. My diary for this week has two or three things noted for each day- last dinners and coffees and trips- so it will probably fly by. Eeesh I don’t want to leave. But I do want to go home. Perhaps if I can just move Sydney a few thousand miles towards Europe?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A tale of three cities

I was told Melbourne was the ‘liveable city,’ and many people prefer it over Sydney. I was keen to make my own opinion, so visited with my parents over the Easter weekend.

Our hotel was situated very near the river and the southbank, which is an area I’d been advised to explore, so after dumping our luggage we headed there. Coming from Sydney and its massive harbour areas, and having lived in London with the Thames southbank, I have to say I was expecting something a little bigger. Quaint is perhaps a word that would spring to mind. And a bit of ‘Oh, is this it?’

Surprise number two was when we sought out Federation Square, the main events square in the city. Once again, with images of Trafalgar Square and Martin Place as my benchmark I was surprised. This time it was for the lack of the traditional. I would be pushed to call it a square; more an irregular quadrilateral, with its modern walls of jerky angles, mixtures of glass and stone, and a sloping floor. But good on them. For once the Australians hadn’t tried to copy a part of Europe, but had instead come up with something unique and totally their own. I actually became quite fond of it.

Somewhere they did imitate Europe was with their new London eye style observation wheel in the docklands: the southern star. Alas, it is a stationary wheel. A month after it opened at the start of 2009 it was closed due to ‘structural defects’, including buckling and cracks. The rumours were that the 40 degree temperatures melted the metal, but according to wikipedia it was an engineering mistake, not the sun. Ooops. That’s a bit embarrassing for the engineers.

I’m afraid that, overall, Sydney and London still win by far. Sydney’s main market in china town is far more central than Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Markets. The Opera House and Harbour Bridge take a lot to beat, and what we saw of Melbourne’s botanical gardens didn’t outdo Sydney’s.

And London’s London…with its massive history, great museums, beautiful parks, and amazing landmarks. It would take something stunning to eclipse my capital.

However, in three days I developed a certain affection for Melbourne, so in three weeks or three months who knows what would happen. It’s still being developed, and the population is still growing, so I’d like to see it in a few years time. The shopping is really good and offers variety, with enticing side streets and alleys to explore, and the cafes are plentiful with lots of character. And of course they have a beautiful casino…

Saturday, April 4, 2009


I’m starting to feel like the world is falling apart. Honestly, things just aren’t doing/ being what they’re supposed to be anymore.

Firstly we have freak weather. Masses of snow in England, masses of rain and masses of fire in Australia.

Next we have the financial crisis. Loss of jobs, loss of money, loss of things making sense. It starts to feel crazy when I’m told Woolworths will no longer be seen on UK high streets, and people in America leave their houses and post front door keys though the letterbox because it’s simply cheaper that way.

These things are all fairly major though, and have no real direct impact on me. This week, however, crazy land caught up with Esther Stewart of 1 Wigram Road.

Sitting in my practice room in the basement level of Sydney conservatorium I was hammering away at some Mozart when the world went dark. The red flashing light from my metronome was my only indication that I hadn’t gone blind. The fire alarm siren starting creeping into my eardrums (they start them quietly here and increase the volume, possibly to prevent heart attacks?) Oh not another fire drill please. This is the fourth one in a month.

No, not another fire drill. Leaving my practice room and bumping into other musicians we found our way stopped by shutters blocking the corridors. I felt as if on the Titanic. Had we been locked in? Were we the sacrifice that had to be made?

Thankfully a member of staff, donning his luminous jacket, showed us to a back exit; a path snaked around the back of the building and into the open. The fire brigade were already there, and the news spread of a power failure. Half an hour later, we were allowed back into the building to collect belongings. Feeling in the dark I found my bag and jacket and decided to abandon the rest until the morning.

On leaving the conservatorium, we discovered that the whole circular quay area of the city was in black out. Chaos. Policemen were playing substitute for the powerless traffic lights, people were sitting in dark cafes finishing their drinks, helicopters were flying overhead filming the footage I saw later on TV, and the streets were jam packed with the hundreds of office workers heading home. I felt like on a movie set.

On returning to my suburb of Glebe I found relative normality. Not long lasted. Wednesday morning I woke up to find the power cut had followed me home. A shower in the dark is an interesting experience. Thursday morning the power was back but we had no water. It’s a good thing I like drinking milk, but any kind of washing had to wait until I arrived at college (I was careful not to breathe on anyone during the bus ride).

What will tomorrow bring? More freak weather, or money madness, or will my house actually fall down? Who knows. It’s an exciting life at least.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sand·wich: Two or more slices of bread with a filling such as meat or cheese placed between them.

I never used to appreciate the beauty of the sandwich, until when I was 17 and began working in a sandwich shop on Saturdays. It was there I learned that filling bread with flavour combinations is an art: turkey and cranberry; spinach, bacon and smoked cheese; tuna with sweetcorn and red pepper. There are reasons why such classics as the BLT are found everywhere (they taste amazing) but I ask you now, who makes the rules?

In the last few weeks I have put up with some teasing from friends as I have been experimenting with my lunchtime sandwich. Since becoming a student I’ve had either peanut butter or marmite as my daily sandwich filling- they are cheap, can be stored long term in a cupboard, and are pretty good for me. However, after Christmas this year I became restless. I started yearning for something more. Something tastier. I started to think of the artworks once created every Saturday.

The experiments started out by combining what food I had left in the fridge that was in danger of going off. That is how I first tried broccoli and cheddar- the broccoli was going soft so I lightly steamed it and stuck it between two pieces of bread with the thinly sliced cheese. I took some stick for that one, but have since repeated it on purpose. The cheese/greens combination is beautiful. Likewise, I have sometimes roasted too much sweet potato for my dinner. A bit of mayo and seasoning. Yum.

When uniting sliced tomato and vegemite between homemeal bread I thought I’d found something tasty and highly original, only to be told it’s a well known snack the Australians call a ‘Redback’.

Another that was laughed at was raspberry jam and cheese. Think of the jam as cranberry sauce and you’ll get the idea. Peanut butter is a wonderful tool when not limited to being a ‘sweet’ filling. First think satay, and then try a peanut butter and cucumber sandwich, or lettuce. Of course it is equally as good with sliced banana (picture above).

The crème de la crème happened this week though. I had some gourmet ingredients I do not usually splash out on, but through a series of events had them in the fridge needing eating. The avocado, sun dried tomato and black olive sandwich was born. Mediterranean paradise. Need I say more?

In conclusion, I no longer have rules on my sandwich board. Whether it be vegetables, meat, fruit or spreads, if things taste good together stick them between two pieces of bread. After all, that’s what the Earl of Sandwich originally did; he put a meal in a convenient casing. Glorious.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

'There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it'. Bertrand Russell

I have to commute on the bus to college, which is usually a twenty minute journey each way. I therefore decided

to put this time to good use, and am working my way through some fabulous books. Middlemarch was surprisingly good motivation for getting out of bed in the morning!

As I’m about half way through my time here I thought it would be good to give my (short) reviews on the reads so far. Looking at the BBC Big Read list, I have now read 25 out of the top 50 books (34 out of the top 100) and hope to increase this even more by the end of the year. I admit Joanne Harris and Dan Brown aren’t on that list, but some light relief has to be allowed. The story so far:

Angels and Demons, Dan Brown

Fast, exhilarating, easy read.

Gentleman and Players, Joanne Harris

Clever, beautiful, nostalgic, but also frightening. She paints great pictures of life in different environments, this time a snobbish boy’s grammar school.

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

Gruelling yet wonderful, it made me appreciate my life.

The Lollipop Shoes, Joanne Harris

Magic, chocolate, Paris, pretty shoes, romance…what more can I want from a novel? It’s the sequel to Chocolat so while I’m here I’ll make the point that, much as I love the film, the book of Chocolat is far superior (as always).

(Select short stories from) Jigs and Reels, Joanne Harris

Had it by my bedside but didn’t manage to finish them all before it was due back at the library, and no great desire to renew. Some fabulously quirky ideas, but not many of the stories were satisfying at the end (a common problem with short stories).

Middlemarch, George Elliot

Jane Austen’s plots with Emily Bronte’s passion. Funny and sometimes frustrating, but a joy to read, I loved the characters and highly recommend it. Don’t be put off by its size!

Watership Down, Richard Adams

Stick with it and you’ll end up living and breathing the life of those rabbits. I don’t often like it when stories/poems are inserted into novels, but the sections where the rabbits were telling their folklore were as enjoyable as the main plot. Lovely.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

I’ll let you know when I’ve finished it…

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I could hear the toddler screaming as we pulled up to Central Station, and the words of warning ‘now people on the bus don’t want to hear this. Let’s be quiet now…’

After getting her double buggy carrying two little ones onto the bus, the mother coaxed the toddler to follow her on. He was all tears and pleas, but she remained calm, repeating herself ‘we don’t want to upset the other passengers now do we, and the driver has to concentrate, so let’s be quiet now.’

After sitting behind their little party for a couple of minutes I gathered she’d confiscated a toy, and he was allowed it back on Tuesday (two days time). She was brilliant at dealing with his pleas, saying simply that he’d had plenty of warnings, he could have it back on Tuesday, no more discussion on it, and he was allowed to be angry but had to be quiet else he’d have to wait until Wednesday. After counting to three she proceeded to distract him and the other two children by pointing out all sights on the way home: the library, the university, the church, an aeroplane…

The toddler started to play up again as we passed the shopping centre, but sticking to her tactics she talked to him like a little adult, and it worked like a charm.

I’ve seen other not so good examples on my bus journeys, believe me. You know the battle’s lost when the parent ends up shouting as loud as the child. I admire the mothers who are as patient as she, and who hold to their word rather than give in to tantrums. Infinite respect.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas is coming, the Goose is getting fat

But do I really want to eat roast goose when it’s thirty degrees outside? It just doesn’t seem quite right; Christmas trees, tinsel, lights, and sunshine.

Christmas celebrations derived from a pagan festival, which used to cheer people up in the dark days of winter. In England, where December is cold and dark, bright lights and warming feasts make a lot of difference. The food of Christmas is designed to bolster and comfort: roast dinners, spicy fruit, warming liqueurs, and of course mulled wine.

In Sydney, where it doesn’t get dark until late evening, Christmas lights seem a bit of a waste. When it’s hot outside I don’t feel like eating mince pies unless they’re with ice cream. In fact, with the prospect of wearing a bikini always around the corner I don’t want to feast on food at all.

The trees all have their leaves, so there’s no real need for the evergreen Christmas trees and wreaths. Despite this, Australia still retains the Victorian British traditions of Christmas, but it lacks the atmosphere. The wrapping paper is still decorated with snowflakes, and Father Christmas still wears furs (though this could be argued is because he’s from the North Pole).

I don’t mind really. I’m enjoying the Australian summer and would be more at risk from homesickness if it was a fully atmospheric English style Christmas. And I fully intend to eat mince pies and Christmas cake galore when Christmas actually arrives. Perhaps it’ll be colder in New Zealand, where I’m heading in a weeks time.

Merry Christmas one and all!