Archive for January, 2014

365 Days Left

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Yesterday (30 January) marked one year until I am to be kicked out of the mother country. For awhile there I thought my Visa would expire two years from my date of entry into the country but apparently not. I have been gypped 29 days of British residency because I planned in advance and applied for my visa before I really needed it. Damn you, Home Office.

It is remarkable how much of a difference knowing that I only have a year left makes. For the last month I have been toying with the idea of going back to Australia early as my inner need to settle, build nests, grow roots, get a mortgage and spend the rest of my life paying it off reared its ugly head. Now that I have reached the ‘One Year Left’ milestone I have switched modes and am now fretting about what to do next and how to make the most of my time in the UK. I can feel a list and a count down calendar coming – every day I have to do something new/fun/exciting/ different/dramatic/scary/boring. That’s easily achieved and will make me feel like I haven’t wasted yet another year ‘finding myself’ by running away to a foreign country. Good plan.

So yesterday to celebrate the milestone, I worked all day. Brilliant. However, to add some excitement and festivity to the day, I did the one thing that I know will always bring happiness to my day – I ate food. I tried a new recipe from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s brilliant cookbook Veg Every Day. Hugh’s recipes never disappointment me and his spicy carrot and chickpea pitta pockets were brilliant. Butter, cumin, carrots and chickpeas – happiness wrapped up in bread.

Mmm… tasty.

Mmm… tasty.

I spoiled myself with a sticky toffee pudding for dessert, on special from Sainsburys. While my inner food snob tells me off for enjoying supermarket puddings, it was really good. And I have another one waiting for me in the fridge for another night.

Not bad, Sainsburys. Not bad at all.

Not bad, Sainsburys. Not bad at all.

Exploring Imagination

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

I requested a day off work and spent a long weekend down in London. I took the opportunity to attend one of the free talks organised by the School of Life at Selfridges as part of the Festival of Imagination. This festival comprises a series of talks and workshops that encourage creative thought and exploration of the imagination. The lunch time talk I attended was given by the creative development team, Vitamins, who discussed three of the amazing projects that they have worked on and developed. From a folding wheelchair wheel to a wall calendar, their main focus is solving problems through beautiful and thoughtful design.

My favourite project that they spoke about was a simplified user manual for smart phones. The original brief was from Samsung to find out how to make smart phones more accessible to older users. They developed a beautiful hard covered book which you place the new phone into and that provides you with straightforward, easy to follow instructions on how to install, set up and use the phone. As I watched the talk I imagined my grandmother being presented with this manual and being confident enough to set up her own phone. The research they undertook to get to the final product was fantastic – interviewing and conducting product tests with people of various ages to discover what made smart phones so difficult for older users. The final user manual is beautiful and practical – as all good products should be. You should look at their video for the user manual on their website – genius.

The talk was very inspirational – seeing three young people with such creative ideas and so much enthusiasm for their work was wonderful to see.

A Touch of Poetry

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

I have never been a huge reader of poetry, mostly due to the overbearing nature in which poems were forced upon me at High School. Plus I often find the use of language in poetry to be over the top and trying too be more impressive than it really is. I feel I should read more poetry because that’s what literary people do but every time I try I give up quickly. Unless they are Spike Milligan nonsense poems which I can devour en masse.

So imagine my surprise and pleasure at the fact that I have just spent part of my evening curled up on my couch reading poems written by young West Australian poet, Zoe Taylor. I met Zoe at Curtin University when, as a graduate, I agreed to be her ‘mentor’ as she was studying the degree that I had completed. I wasn’t much of a mentor and mostly encouraged Zoe to just have fun and consider travelling. But I do like to feel somewhat responsible for the fact that she is now a far more accomplished writer than me and that her name is on a published book.

Stroke by Zoe Taylor

Stroke by Zoe Taylor

Ok it isn’t me at all – Zoe has a natural talent for writing and her poems are short bursts of youthful insight into life, love and death. The overall maturity of her writing solidifies her punchy and engaging voice, each poem drawing you into the story. I felt my skin react to the horrifying outcome of a son finding his father dead in Stroke, fell in love with the lustful romance between Abel and Ruth, and felt a strong connection with the failed affair of Y = X. What amazed me most was how engaged I felt with each of Zoe’s poems and my desire to read on further. I was always going to read them, but I was overwhelmingly impressed at how beautiful Zoe’s writing is.

Zoe was selected to be part of the New Voices mentorship program and you can purchase her book, Stroke, from Express Media and I believe some bookshops.

Disappointing Dessert

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

I had high hopes for Rosylee Tea Rooms in the Northern Quarter. They opened their doors towards the end of summer last year and I had been wanting to try their food since. On Thursday night, after being ‘arty and stuff’ and attending an exhibition opening, Pooja and I had dinner at Soup Kitchen before heading across the road to Rosylee for dessert. We were excited. We had heard good things and the photographs on their website suggested we were going to be very happy.

It wasn’t a great start – the staff ignored us as we walked in and looked obviously annoyed that we had entered their restaurant at 8.30pm when they had seem some potential for closing early. We were eventually invited to take a seat of our choosing and we then were presented with dessert menus. Rosylee has a fancy-vibe going for it. Lots of shiny things, black and white furnishings and the waitstaff look like they want to take your coat. It could be elegant but the restaurant was half-empty so it just felt a bit uncomfortable.

I went down a classic route and chose the plum and apple crumble served with cinnamon clotted cream. It was the clotted cream that got me and I promised to share some of it with Pooja. The chocolate item on the menu was a chocolate marquis with cherry which I knew I wouldn’t like because chocolate should never, ever, ever be put together with cherry or orange. Plus I was feeling like something cozy and comforting so crumble it was.

Apple and plum crumble

Apple and plum crumble

It was disappointing. I could have made a better crumble – the apple and the plum were both undercooked and the crumble topping had nothing interesting to it. Plus the custard was lumpy. The clotted cream was good (of course) but that’s because it is clotted cream and it is impossible for that not to taste amazing.

Pooja chose a Baileys crème brûlée which tasted nothing like Baileys. And it was overcooked and slightly curdled.

Baileys crème brûlée

Baileys crème brûlée

Both dishes looked very pretty and there was a moment of joy when they were placed in front of us. But sadly the joy ended as we dipped our over-sized spoons into delicate pots. Such a shame.

We had both independently decided against ordering tea when we had seen the price – £3.60. That’s a lot of money for some hot water and tea leaves. We were sad that our Rosylee Tea Room experience hadn’t been more successful, and while we agreed they weren’t the worst desserts we have ever eaten, they were overpriced and just not great. The final interesting moment was when our bill was plonked down on our table, signalling it was time for us to leave. And most likely never go back.

Fans and Typewriter Ribbon

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

On Thursday I attended an exhibition opening at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art that included a piece created by my friend, Andrew Lim. Andrew’s work is largely sculptural and generally involves simple, every day items that he has used to create new shapes and forms. His piece within the Tipping Point exhibition involves electric fans and some typewriter ribbon. As the fans lift and move the ribbon, it bounces against a white wall, slowly leaving an ink mark on the surface. The exhibition will be on for eight weeks and over this time the ink will build up and create interesting shapes and forms.

The simplicity of the piece and the hypnotic movement of the ribbon is brilliant. I could sit and watch it for hours.

Time to Start Running

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

I received an email on the weekend reminding me that there are only 12 weeks to go until I die. Well, death may be an extreme outcome, but suffering greatly is definitely accurate. Apparently, in 12 weeks time it is the Manchester Marathon, a piece of information I had managed to squash into the deepest, darkest corners of my brain so that I could live happily and worry-free. When I signed up for the marathon there was still a long time to go until I would have to even contemplate thinking about it, but all of a sudden the new year has arrived and April 6 is just around the corner. And I haven’t started training yet.

My current requirement to be at work by 9am every morning has cut back my running schedule. I can only fit in a 5-7 kilometre run each morning, getting up at 6.10am so that I can be showered, dressed, breakfasted and lunch-packed in time for work. This isn’t anywhere near 42 kilometres and I need to start doing longer runs to prepare myself. This morning I managed to get up earlier and completed a 9.5 kilometre run which was relieving and oddly enjoyable. It is good to know that I can still run that far. I am planning a long run on Saturday morning – hopefully I will manage to do 15-20 kilometres without collapsing. Hopefully over the next few weeks the sun will decide to stay in the sky for longer and I will be able to do a few long runs after work and actually be able to see where I am going.

Hills, Lakes and Cakes

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

I am not an outdoorsy-type but I would like to be. I am amazed by people who go for long walks, have camping holidays and who own jackets that make that water-proofed swishing/crinkling sound. These people own boots that don’t matter if you walk through puddles and muddy ground, and their cheeks have a healthy red glow from outdoor activity. I want to be one of these people with their bright blue Northface jackets, fleecy beanies and thick socks. I want to go on long walks up hills, along rivers and through valleys even when it is raining and for it not to matter if I get saturated. It is freedom and adventure far beyond my usual explorations of museum galleries and city back streets. I think I will always want a clean toilet and warm shower (let’s not get too crazy) but getting back to nature looks like so much fun.

On Saturday I had a taste of this wild adventure when my cousin Les took me to the Lake District to walk up a hill. A one and a half hour drive north of Manchester, this area of England is a stunning collection of hills, lakes (although there is technically only one ‘lake’ in the Lake District – the rest are waters/meres/etc) and cute little towns with thriving tourism industries. As we left Manchester, it was, of course, raining. My mood suited the Mancunian cloud as my not-so-great week made me a not-so-great driving companion for poor Lesley. But as we drove further north both the rain and my mood lifted and soon we were surrounded by rolling hills, fluffy white clouds, golden sunshine and happy sheep. Happy sheep will always make a happy Jess. Always.

On the way we stopped at Low Sizergh Barn, an organic farm with a shop and tea room, for a cup of coffee. What would be the point of going to a tea room if you don’t sample the homemade cakes? Les and I each had a scone served with homemade jam and cream. As we sat stuffing our faces with large balls of dough, we could see into the cow milking room (the source of the cream we were happily consuming.) I think that if you can see where the fat originated from then it is good fat.

More cream? Why, yes please!

More cream? Why, yes please!

Re-energised, we continued on to the town of Grasmere where we parked the car, changed our shoes, donned our waterproof/windproof/mountain-lion-proof gear and prepared ourselves for the climb ahead. It would be tough. It would be gruelling. There was a chance we would not make it. A very, very small chance because it wasn’t a particularly large hill and there was no real danger involved.

Our aim was Silver How – a reasonably steep fell with an elevation of 359 metres. By this time the sun was shining, the wind had dropped and there were a few clouds around so it was perfect fell-climbing weather. One of the nicest aspects of the walk was the fact that for a large part we were heading up a rocky path that was also a small stream so I was able to put my second-hand hiking boots to the test as I tromped through flowing water. I could walk in water and mud without worrying about my shoes! Brilliant!

Les leads the way up the rocky path

Les leads the way up the rocky path

The views as we got higher were amazing – we were surrounded by other large hills, some of which had snow covered tops, and as we rose up above the town of Grasmere we could see down to the lake. We met other walkers along the way, exchanging nods, hellos and general good vibes. Everyone was happy to be walking up and down a hill, breathing fresh air and taking in the beautiful scenery.

We met a dog, too.

We met a dog, too.

After an hour and 15 minutes of walking we reached the summit of Silver How and were welcomed with a stunning 360 degree view of the Lake District. The hills, lakes, towns, snow, clouds and sky created a overwhelmingly beautiful display, demonstrating once again why so many painters have spent their time recording British landscapes. At the top the wind had increased and a small weather front was heading across the snow-covered Langdale hills. As the clouds passed alongside Silver How, the wind blew remnants of snow onto us and we sat at the top of our conquered fell with never ending views, patchy sunshine and snow falling on our waterproof jackets. The sound of snow on plastic hoods is fantastic. We were soon freezing and had wet bums from sitting on the soggy ground (jeans aren’t waterproof) so we headed back down the hill, eating our picnic lunch near the bottom.

Amazing views from Silver How.

Amazing views from Silver How.

After a brief exploration of Grasmere and a sample of their local gingerbread (wow.) we drove to Ambleside and to a café called Chesters where I had my second piece of cake for the day. A two-pieces-of-cake day is always a good day. Although I guess if you count the small gingerbread sample I had, then that’s a three-cake-day. My very large square of carrot cake was particularly good with large chunks of apple and walnut throughout and a marzipan carrot on the top. Delicious.

That's a big piece of carrot cake.

That’s a big piece of carrot cake.

While we sat and ate our afternoon tea, Les had the idea of visiting some of her friends who live in the area and we organised to meet them for dinner. We ate at a local pub in Ravenstonedale and went back to their house where Will showed me his vintage buses. They run a vintage coach hire company and take tours and rent out their beautiful classic coaches.

It was then time to drive back to Manchester and we arrived home just before midnight. It had been a long and adventurous day full of food, activity and good times. Being surrounded by the impressive hills and lakes of the Lake District and being out in nature reminded me of how small I am in the big picture and how there’s so much to see and do and explore in the world. Life’s little annoyances are just that – little and annoying. If you spend too much time worrying about the meaning of life, you will miss out on noticing the green-patchwork on grassy hills, the way in which  sunlight bounces off dampened ground, the sound of snow hitting plastic jacket hoods, and the wiggle of happy sheep bums.

On top of the world

On top of the world

Discovering the Mysteries of Vernacular

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Last night I discovered a lovely series of animated videos on the TED-Ed website, the educational offshoot of TED talks. These two-minute videos offer insights into the Mysteries of Vernacular or where certain words come from. The chosen words include ‘Odd’, ‘Window’ and ‘Gorgeous’, with one of my particular favourites being ‘Fizzle’. The videos have been made by Jessica Oreck (good name) and Rachael Teel and are informative, funny and beautifully put together. Have a look-see.

There’s a Place Called King of Prussia?

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Sometimes procrastination and distractions are worth it and today Wikipedia delivered me a gem. I have spent part of my afternoon looking for writing opportunities and read about a copywriting position in “King of Prussia.” At first I presumed this was the name of a creative agency or some sort of weird and whacky company. However, a quick Google search and the all-knowing, always reliable source that is Wikipedia told me that King of Prussia is a census-recognised area in Pennsylvania with a population of 19,936 (2010.) It is also home to the largest mall in the United States (based on leasable retail space.)

It gets better – it is also the location of the headquarters of the American Baptist Churches USA, a building known as the Holy Doughnut. While on the doughnut theme, there is also a Dunkin’ Donuts at the King of Prussia Mall.

Thank you, Wikipedia. Now it’s back to work.

Running in the Dark (or A Man and His Dog)

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Every weekday my alarm goes off at 6.10am, the BOOPITY-BOOP! BOOPITY-BOOP! BOOPITY-BOOP! jolting me from my comfort as I thump blindly at my bedside table – evil noise, go away. For five minutes I lie in bed with my eyes closed, my two inner beings having a fist fight and screaming match in my head. Lazy, relaxed Jess thinks lying in is good for me and that I could really do with some extra sleep. Strict, demanding Jess has higher expectations and is insistent that now is the time to get up and go for a run. This second Jess always wins due to copious amounts of guilt, threats of weight gain and promises that the more I run, the more cake I can consume. FINE.

It is DARK in Manchester at 6.10am. The sun currently doesn’t rise above the horizon until 8.22am so I have been for my run, had a shower, eaten breakfast and am leaving for work by the time the sun gets up. There are a few issues with running in the dark:

  1. You can’t see puddles. Manchester footpaths are notoriously bad for pot holes, sloping pavement tiles and for just being generally shocking. If it rains (which it always does) massive puddles form across the footpaths and when there’s no light around they are are particularly difficult to spot. This means you are guaranteed wet and therefore frozen feet by the time you return home.
  2. Your chances of being murdered are greatly increased. Don’t start panicking yet, Mum, but Manchester doesn’t have the greatest reputation for safety. There are a few oddballs and weirdos who like doing things to people in the many dark and dingy streets of the city. This means that I stick to main roads that are well lit and frequented by lots of people and cars and my running routes are therefore really, really boring. I much prefer my summer run that takes me along the canal where I can see water and rowers and evil Canadian geese. I need to devise some more interesting running routes throughout the city but Manchester is so small that it seems like I am back at home before I have even started.
  3. Sleeping when it is dark is much better than being awake. Enough said.

Despite these drawbacks, I do feel much better after I have completed my 45 minute run and there are tears streaming down my face from the cold and I feel like I have been running against tempestuous winds for the entire time. Plus I now have a friend.

I have met this smiling man and his big, friendly dalmatian at the corner of my street and the main drag, Deansgate, three times now. The first time we crossed paths it was as if he was waiting for me – “HELLO!” he said. It felt like we were old friends. I had left the house in a sour mood, stressed by approaching Christmas tasks that I needed to perform and his greeting and enthusiasm at seeing me brightened my mood instantly. Now each time we meet, his dog comes over to have a sniff and say hello. “You can pat him!” said the man the last time we met. After I had explained my allergies to all things with fur, it was as if I had crushed his heart with my bare hands. “Well that’s awful! He is such a good dog! You poor thing!”

Our meetings are only brief – a hello, a how are you, and good wishes for the day. But that brief interaction is enough to bring pure delight to my day and make me run with a lighter step.