Archive for September, 2015

Facts and Fallacies about Cambridge

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

This somewhat ignorant Australian went to Cambridge on the weekend and discovered the truths and not-so-truths about her preconceived notions on the city.

  1. When people say “I went to Cambridge.” you should ask them for more information. There are 31 colleges connected to the University of Cambridge, most of which are located within the main city centre. King’s, Christ’s, Darwin’s colleges are all autonomous colleges within the University. So there you go.
  2. All men in Cambridge have floppy hair parted to the side and they wear chinos, boating shoes and have sweaters tied around the necks. TRUE.
  3. Cambridge is a very pretty city with a ridiculously large number of ye olde buildings where smart people sit around learning. TRUE.
  4. All eating establishments in Cambridge are just plain fancy. Not so true – we ate lunch at a fairly average pub where we’re reasonably certain Sir Pubert obtained food poisoning.
  5. Everyone punts in Cambridge. True, particularly if you’re a tourist or at a hen’s party.

I liked Cambridge but I felt a little bit like a northern intruder. I don’t think my creative thought processes and dislike for structure and hierarchy would fit in well.

King's College chapel

King’s College chapel

Midsummer House

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Almost a year ago, Sir Pubert’s mum, Katy, told me about a restaurant that she and and her partner Ken had eaten at. These two occasionally spoil themselves and eat out at fancy restaurants and they highly recommended the two Michelin-starred Midsummer House situated on the riverside in Cambridge.

Not only did they recommend it, in December Katy decided to book a table and the earliest Saturday night they had available was the 19 September. Luckily I had decided to pop over to Australia for eight months so the wait wasn’t an issue.

Last Saturday night, Katy, Ken and I glammed up and forced Sir Pubert into wearing a shirt (which he refused to tuck in). I’ve never been a very girly-girl and I don’t understand makeup in the slightest but I do enjoy having an opportunity to wear slightly dressier dresses. It means they weren’t a complete waste of money, plus it’s nice to look pretty every now and then.

Midsummer House isn’t the location of many murders, extramarital affairs or religious sacrifice, but instead is an understated house that has been transformed into a fancy-pants restaurant on the banks of the river in Cambridge. We were greeted about approximately seven chirpy wait staff who were all exceptionally happy to see us. The overly cheery welcome unnerved me slightly but thankfully it soon calmed down and the staff turned out to be sarcastic, witty and easy-going people. They were extremely good at their jobs and the service throughout the evening was exceptional.

Midsummer House

Midsummer House

And then there was the food. We had the seven course degustation menu with the matching wines. This started with some canapés which continued to arrive from the kitchen and you were never quite sure when it was all going to stop. And then came the main dishes, each plate delivered with a synchronised placement on the table so that everyone was served at exactly the same time. I loved this.

Overall, the food was beautiful. It looked good, tasted good and brought smiles to our faces. Of the savoury dishes, the highlights were a crab, avocado, champagne and pink grapefruit thing (my grandmother would describe it as ‘fluffy’ and I would concur), the roasted beetroot with frozen goat’s cheese and quinoa (all of my favourite things on one plate), and this quail mousse on sourdough. The roasted quail was an extreme disappointment and so was the duck. If I’ve learnt anything from watching hours of Master Chef it is that duck fat needs to be rendered and the skin should be crispy. This was neither of those.

The ultimate highlights, however, were the two desserts. Yes, two. The first was called the ‘pre-dessert’ which is a plate that I am introducing to my daily life from now on.

This pre-dessert was an aerated lychee and mango dome with crunchy meringue and mango shards. I don’t particularly like mango, or lychee, but WOWZERS! This was light, tangy and refreshing, plus it just looked beautiful.

Pre-dessert

Pre-dessert

However then came my overall favourite dish of the evening – described as “Pickled blackberry, pastis and pear, blackberry ‘Marquise'” the final dish wasn’t at all what I expected because they failed to mention ‘chocolate’. Yes, the holiest of ingredients. The pear sorbet fizzed in your mouth, and the blackberry marquise had a fantastic berry flavour. The little crisp sitting on top had a subtle pastis flavour (highly appropriate as I had played petanque earlier that day) and then there was a small ball of dark chocolate and blackberry ganache that just added a depth and richness to the whole dish. It so good. I ate it as slowly as possible with a big grin on my face. I could have eaten 5 of those.

Dessert #2

Dessert #2

After all of this food we were brought chocolates and doughnuts which none of us really wanted but we all tried anyway. The homemade chocolates were quite interesting – particularly one which was flavoured with bay leaf. I have recently had rosemary and chocolate and bay leaf and chocolate. All winners.

The meal was lovely and the quality of the food, the presentation and the staff was outstanding. It wasn’t the greatest meal that I have ever eaten in my entire life and I’m not necessarily going to rush back, but it was definitely one for the food memory bank. Thanks Katy and Ken for a lovely evening and my first ever Michelin star experience!

Hypersensitive

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

A book about running has just made me cry.

For my birthday, my cousin (and fellow marathoner) Kate gave me the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. She had been telling me to read it for months as it discusses the art of running in its most natural form.

In very basic terms, the book is written by an American sports writer who goes in search of the ultimate runners – the Tarahumara Indians, a tribe in central America who run everywhere. It looks at what it takes to be a long distance runner and to be able to push your body through ridiculous physical feats such as ultra marathons and 100 mile trail runs.

This morning I finished one of the final chapters where they have just completed an obscenely difficult race through the heart of the Copper Canyons in Mexico and it brought tears to my eyes. Absolutely ridiculous – why on earth am I crying about running? Probably for the same reason that I get a bit teary when I finish a marathon – the feeling of completion, of having pushed your mind and body across a threshold that you’re not sure you can reach and the community spirit of people cheering you on as you do so.

I have been thinking a lot about my running style lately and have been trying to incorporate some of the physical and mental techniques mentioned in the book, and maybe it is just coincidental but I have cut my morning run time by 2 minutes. I had thought that three marathons would be enough, but I now know I have to sign up for another. Anyone want to join me?

Back in the Manchester Groove

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Guess where I am, kids! Row M, position 1 of the reading room spiral at Manchester Central Library. My favourite room in the city has welcomed me back, providing me with ergonomically inferior seating in a deliciously silent setting.

Central library

I took this photo the other day. I have since moved.

Currently in my direct line of sight is the arse crack of a man who looks weirdly like Sir Pubert Gladstone (oh good, he just changed positions so my eye balls aren’t hurting quite so much), and earlier I was sitting opposite a guy who was eating away at the skin of all of his fingers. He had to occasionally mop up the blood he was discharging with a dirty tissue. The library attracts all sorts.

I have been in Manchester for over a week now and I am feeling surprisingly settled. It is much, much, much easier to move to a city that you are already familiar with and that is home to people you have already met. I don’t have to start from scratch this time and I know where to go to buy the best value avocados. I have been able to catch up with some of my friends and I am no longer having to whinge to Sir Pubert via text messages. Now he is just a £1 bus ride away and I can nag him in person.

I am living in an area called Victoria Park which sounds fancy and once was. It used to be home to some well known and well to do folk – Mr Charles Dickens used to come and visit on occasion. Of course, that was then and it definitely isn’t now. It is now home to a largely student population and people whose incomes will only let them afford to live in student-like housing. Loads of character and plenty of potential. The apartment that I am sharing is in a building called The Gables which I am certain must have some sort of interesting history. It is next to a pub called The Rampant Lion which has recently reopened as a hotel/pub/trying to be fancy Halal Italian restaurant/beer garden/coffee shop/downstairs Middle Eastern restaurant/take away food outlet. The building is nice, the garden is nice, the beer menu is terrible.

Rampant Lion

View from my apartment window looking at the back of the Rampant Lion

The last week has mostly involved attempting to register for university but discovering that it is harder than it looks, and so doing some writing work in the library instead. On the weekend, I made use of the Heritage Open Days and visited a few historically and culturally significant buildings that were open to the public for free. This included a trip to Halifax with Sir Pubert, continuing our tradition of weekend outings involving a picnic lunch.

England countryside

England sure knows how to do ‘countryside’

Halifax wasn’t great, but the blue cheese, walnut, tomato and onion chutney sandwich that Sir Pubert made me certainly was.

Sandwich in Halifax

Yum.

Whales are Cool

Monday, September 7th, 2015

This year both of my parents turn 60 and I had my big 3-0. As I won’t be around for mum or dad’s birthdays, the four of us (plus Eva) headed down south for a weekend away. We stayed at our usual hangout, Bunker Bay resort, for some luxury family time.

There was plenty of wine and lots of cheese and we had a great time. Two highlights – where we were staying is right on Bunker Bay and every morning mum, dad, Eva and I head down to the beach for a swim. I discovered beach running and did laps up and down the beach, often having the entire bay to myself. It was quite incredible – building up a bit of a sweat before jumping in (and then very quickly out) of the cold ocean. It is definitely a great way to wake up in the morning.

Bunker Bay

Bunker Bay

The even bigger highlight was whale spotting. Whales are migrating at the moment and head south for summer. We walked around to the whale lookout near Cape Leeuwin lighthouse and were welcomed by numerous spurts of water in the distance.

whale

That white dot is a whale. I kid you not.

I never see whales so I was a little bit excited and could have stayed watching out for them all day. We drove around to Meelup beach and sat in a carpark waiting to see if we could spot any others. There were a few further out but as we started the car to leave, a whale about 100 metres off shore decided to come up to the surface and started dancing for us. It rolled around, showed us its fins and tail and then made loud honking noises as it released wind from its blow hole. It was just incredible – nature at its most special, reminding us how the world continues on and is so much bigger and better than just us silly little humans.

Meet Steve

Monday, September 7th, 2015

A month or so ago, I asked my friend Steve what I should write a blog post about and he gave the usual response that most people give – “Write about me.” I gave him the terms and conditions that I would deliver a true and honest report of him and that it would require a photograph. He agreed. And so here it is.

Steve

Hello Steve.

Meet Steve. I call him Sustainability Steve and now so do at least seven people at the Subiaco council. I’m not quite sure how no one else had noticed that glaringly obvious nickname before seeing as his name is Steve and he works in sustainability. Clearly I am more naturally creative than I think.

Steve is Scottish, which we can’t hold against him but it does mean he has a particularly difficult accent. He also mumbles a lot so I spend a lot of time asking him to repeat himself. If we’re in a noisy room at the time, I will often give up on the third repeat attempt and simply smile and nod and hope I will work out what he’s talking about later on in the conversation.

I have been friends with Steve for just over two months and during that short period of time I have managed to learn a lot about him. He has a similar wandering spirit that I can relate to and he dreams of living up a mountain one day (which I can’t relate to.) We started a trend of drinking cabernet merlot next to a fire at The Queens pub but now we won’t do that anymore because it’s too far for me to come and he refuses to live in Manchester.

Steve likes to pretend he is tough but actually he’s not. He is what I like to call a ‘grumpy arse’ and he almost always has a frown on his face. He complains a lot, particularly when he has the sniffles, and is just generally disgruntled with life and the unsustainable living habits of all human beings. Don’t we know that the world is going to end as we know it in 2030? Then what? THEN WHAT?

The only thing that makes Steve smile is the motorbike that he recently purchased. He also likes motorbike jackets and talking about his motorbike. He also talks a lot about sailing and I don’t understand what he’s going on about. The same applies for his current weightlifting obsession and his personal trainer, Johnny. Every day I hear about Johnny but I don’t think Johnny hears about me.

One day Steve is going to live in Canada, buy a van, grow his hair and own a dog and he will spend his time living on mountains, skiing and lighting fires. He went to military school so he could easily fend off bears and Canadians.

Steve has promised that we will meet again within the next twelve months and if we don’t he owes me $20. That will come in handy for this poor, starving student.

Moving to Manchester

Monday, September 7th, 2015

Time really doesn’t stop and somehow 7.5 months have disappeared without telling me where they have gone. In January I left Manchester in tears, certain that my time in Perth was going to be a big void of wasted time. While it perhaps wasn’t what I ultimately wanted to do, my time in Perth turned out to be quite great.

If there is something that I have learnt in my old age, it is that no matter where you are in the world, if you are surrounded by great people then everything is ok. Working at the Subiaco council wasn’t my dream career move but it opened a wealth of unexpected opportunities to me. I spent six months looking forward to going to work because I would spend the time with some awesome people.

I ended up doing seven roles while at the council and I particularly enjoyed my final two which involved me running the Visit Subiaco social media. I love watching social media feeds – so many conversations happening all at once and I can eavesdrop on all of them!

I also loved being back in my family home with mum, dad and Ben. It is a rare occurrence that four very grown adults can live in the same house as one another without someone getting hurt and yet we did ok. Perhaps they’re all relieved that I have finally gone again but I know I liked it.

Meeting up with friends and family that I haven’t seen in years was great and it is always interesting to see how people have changed and grown. We all do it, but in our own special ways.

Getting on the plane today was hard despite having done this moving country thing many times now. I hate the goodbyes and while Facebook, Skype and email do make staying in contact easier, there is always a natural separation. Hopefully we really will see each other again, sometime, somewhere. Until then, let the life adventures roll.

Getting Old

Monday, September 7th, 2015

After running 42 kilometres I then had a birthday party. I wasn’t sure about whether or not my local bar, The Nic, would be an appropriate venue or if it would even be open, but it turned out to be perfect. From 3.30pm until around 6pm, my friends and I essentially had the place to ourselves!

Every time I leave a country I am reminded of how lucky I am to have such awesome friends and family. I had an unexpectedly large turn out to my party and despite it being a very random selection of people, everyone seemed to get along. There were no bar fights so I count that as a successful birthday party.

The post-marathon tiredness hit me at around 6pm as I lay down on a bench seat next to my friend Ellice who proceeded to stroke my hair as I nodded off. Good times! Wild party. Any shindig that ends in me having a head massage is a winner in my books.

My actual birthday was on Tuesday and it crept up on me quite suddenly. I didn’t find the ‘turning 30’ thing as scary as I could have, mostly because I have declared that 30 is the new 20. The fact that I am heading off on yet another adventure and starting a new life direction means I don’t have much choice than accept that I’m not being a typical 30 year old. No mortgages, white picket fences or weddings are on my radar. Instead I am going to become a student again.

birthday card

My brother knows how to choose a birthday card.

*Small aside* The flight attendants have just handed out bags of sweetened popcorn to everyone on the plane and it sounds like the start of a film. Packets are rustling and there’s the crunch and chomp of popped corn between teeth. Pity it is coated in caramel and a bit soggy. Mmm… plane food.

Anyway, good birthday times were had – I started my day with a massage in the hope to alleviate some of the pain from the marathon. It wasn’t quite the ‘dolphin sounds’ relaxation session that I was hoping for and more of an intense pummelling but my muscles thanked me for it afterwards. I then had coffee and cake with Dad and Eva before meeting my friends for lunch in the park.

Dinner was at the Beaufort Street Merchant where we were served by a charming waiter who sounded like Jamie Oliver. The food was excellent – cauliflower and lentils followed by a delightfully rich chocolate mousse with peanut butter ice cream. Somewhat unfortunately all of the desserts were covered with exceptionally teeth-sticking toffee. We all ended the meal trying to discretely remove chunks of sugar from our teeth with our fingers. Classy!

In this soft candle light, the wrinkles are far less defined.

In this soft candle light, the wrinkles are far less defined.

Humidifying Masks

Monday, September 7th, 2015

My usual nosey nature has meant that I have been keeping a close eye on my fellow passengers and today’s winners are the young couple wearing matching humidifying masks. I have never seen these before and definitely wouldn’t have expected to see them on 20-something year olds. Apparently it is good to nuzzle one another while wearing them too. Ahhh… young love.

humidifying masks

www.humidiflyer.com

The Marathon

Monday, September 7th, 2015

I ran a marathon last Sunday. That was fun. I actually managed to get some sleep the night before which is quite unusual for me. Usually the excitement and fear keep me awake all night and I lie there thinking, “Is it time to run yet? No.”

It was a 6am start time down on St George’s Terrace and as per usual it was a wind tunnel. Thankfully this was the windiest part of the entire race and despite a fairly nasty weather forecast, it ended up being a remarkably sunny day.

Please forgive me, I am about to brag. I set off on this marathon expecting to complete it in a similar time to what I ran in Manchester. There were going to be hills so I didn’t think I’d be able to improve on my 4 and a half-ish hours. Half way through the race it dawned on me that I was going slightly faster than I expected, and I was still feeling good. I crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 2 minutes – cutting 24 minutes off my Manchester time. I WAS SO HAPPY. I admit to crying just a little bit as I crossed the finish line but that was potentially due to the burning pain that was going through my thigh muscles. Hills are nasty. I greatly dislike them.

city to surf

Hooray! Another medal!

The race was four days ago and I am still feeling it a bit in my legs and I’m reasonably certain that my foot is broken. Sitting in this plane chair is not helping at all. I’d prefer to be running.

Thanks to some smart thinking on my part, I asked Sir Pubert if he wanted to set another dinner bet for this last marathon. He agreed and I beat the decided time of ‘less than 4 hours 26.’ I am currently about 20 hours away from claiming my prize.