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Creepy Crawlies

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

So the good news is that Sir Pubert has booked tickets to come and visit. He is leaving the safety of England and venturing to the southern colony, a brave decision considering his apparent fear of anything that moves.

Growing up in Australia you get used to being constantly surrounded by bugs. Flies, ants, mosquitoes, cockroaches, stink bugs (although I haven’t seen one of them in ages), slaters, spiders, moths… you develop excellent wrist muscles from swatting something away from your face every 30 seconds or so. While you do get used to it, they are also really freaking annoying. Having flies on your food or a cockroach running around on the wall just above your bed when you want to go to sleep really isn’t fun. Sitting in an ants nest is the pits.

However, despite this, when I moved to Europe and discovered that there just aren’t any insects over there, I missed my crawly friends. You’re never alone in Australia as there is always some sort of small, multi-legged creature watching you or attempting to steal your food. Right now, I am the only active human in my house but I am being gentle serenaded by the high-pitched vibrations of cicadas outside. On the beams of the roof I’m fairly certain there are spiders and there’s likely to be something crawly walking under the couch as I sit here writing this.

What most Europeans/Brits (eg. Sir Pubert) fail to realise, however, is that while we do have a lot of insects in Australia, they’re not all poisonous. I have been back in the country for almost two months and am yet to die. While this may be some sort of pre-Easter miracle, it is more likely due to the fact that most insects are just annoying and not venomous.

Saying that, I did have an altercation with a Red Back spider (red = danger = poison = go to hospital) this morning. I was still half asleep, but luckily it was too. With the help of some eucalyptus scented bug spray (the fresh smell makes it seem like you’re doing good things to nature rather than killing innocent creatures) and a tissue, I managed to win the battle of good and evil. There is an abnormally large number of Red Backs around my house at the moment building nests in roof beams, door frames, and the hot water heater. I found about 20 teeny-tiny baby Red Backs who had clearly all just hatched from their eggs in my car door the other day. While babies are cute, I really didn’t want 20 Red Backs in my car so I politely asked them, and their very large mother, to leave.

red back spider

The worst thing about Red Backs is that sometimes they don’t have red backs.

Apart from the Red Backs I haven’t seen anything potentially life threatening. One of the regular morning swimmers at the beach reckons he saw a shark chasing salmon the other week but he likes a good story so the validity of his sighting is a little rocky. So it is safe for Sir Pubert to come and visit. I just hope he survives the sniffer dog at the Perth airport on his arrival.

You Know You’re in Australia When…

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

The past few years of living in foreign countries, my eyes have developed an instinct to constantly search for new and unique things. I have learnt to spot small details that many people would overlook because it is in their home country and therefore part of the background. Returning to Perth, I have felt like a bit of an outsider, rediscovering the city again after four years of being away. The city has grown enormously over that time thanks to rich miners spending money on housing, commerce and business properties. There are so many new shops, cafés, bars, hipster hang outs and places to be, which is very exciting for a once sleepy town. It is fantastic to see some life and activity injected into Perth and, dare I say it, even a little bit of c-u-l-t-u-r-e.

This eye-opening experience has meant that I have spotted a few quintessential Australian sights that I hadn’t really noticed before. Two of my favourites are:

  1. While every service station in the UK sells firewood, at ‘servos’ in Australia you can usually buy fishing bait. I was driving to Bullsbrook with my Dad the other week and was therefore at least a 40 minute drive from any sort of ocean or body of water, and we went past a petrol station with a sign advertising ‘Bait’. Why you would buy fishing bait in the hills of Perth, I’m not sure. My local servo, located in one of the ooh-la-la posh suburbs, also sells bait. While this makes more sense as it’s less than 10 minutes from both the river and the ocean, but I still doubt many western suburbs ladies who lunch will be picking up some tackle.
  2. Drive through bottle-os. It has dawned on me how illogical drive through bottle shops (that’s a store where you purchase liquor for all of my non-Australian readers) are considering Australia is such a nanny-state where you can’t do anything even close to dangerous or illegal without someone wagging their finger at you. I hope we never get rid of them though because I really enjoy the smell of refrigerated alcohol and cardboard boxes that permeates from the door.

So they are two nuggets of Australian quirkiness that I wanted to share with you. I love a sunburnt country.

Falling Ice Balls

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

It has become a regular occurrence that on my morning runs to Media City in Salford Quays, as I make my loop back towards the city I will notice a large black cloud looming overhead. In these moments, the sky towards Manchester is surprisingly clear but rapidly approaching is an ominous mass of impending rain.

No matter how fast I make my little legs go, there is no hope of beating the natural speed of approaching weather. And so I await the sensation of sharp bullets of water hitting the back of my legs and quickly accept that I’m about to get drenched. The good thing about this reoccurring phenomenon is that the wind is behind me, pushing me towards home.

This morning the rain came in the form of hail – small micro-balls of ice bouncing off my jacket, head and the ground beneath my feet. I had the canal towpath to myself as no other runners were stupid enough to head out this early on a freezing Friday morning. So it was just me and the swans enjoying the calm canal water being attacked by icy rocks. As I turned a corner and ran under a street lamp, the light bounced off their shiny surfaces as they managed to stab their way into my eyes.

And despite this discomfort, I smiled, enjoying the freedom of not caring and it not mattering. It was one of those moments where I realised how small I am in this world and how no matter what decisions I make or what routes I take in life, the world continues to evolve and hail will continue to fall.

Tea + Laptop = No.

Monday, November 24th, 2014

I have always tried to maintain the rule of no liquids next to my computer. I once had a fit when my boyfriend at the time accidentally dropped birthday cake on my laptop when he tried to show my parents what we were eating via Skype. So I’m not entirely sure why I have become lax in this rule and have recently had cups of tea sitting precariously close to my laptop on my work desk.

Never again, my friends. Never again. I have well and truly learnt the lesson that “Liquids + Laptops = Tears and General Disaster.” Last Wednesday, having rushed around for half of the day feeling like I wasn’t getting enough done and that I had to get to the office and work, work, work, I finally made it to my desk, turned on my laptop, started to do some work and then absent-mindedly knocked my cup of tea across my desk.

It was one of those moments when time slows down and you stand and stare at the mess you have just created, not quite believing it. Then reality hits and all you can do is swear under your breath and rush around frantically looking for paper towels because maybe that will fix everything.

Luckily I had three fellow workmates who calmed me down, tipped my laptop upside down and provided me with sage advice and moral support. My laptop ended up being nestled upside down in a tray of kitty litter for 48 hours as I looked at it with mournful eyes and general dread. It is when your computer is sitting in kitty litter that you realise how much you rely on it. On Friday morning I waited for as long as possible before pressing the power button and felt an immense sense of relief when it successfully started up. Sadly, it did suffer from the tea spillage and it now believes that every key on the keyboard is the number ‘5’, except for if you press ‘4’ and you get ‘345’. I think that’s quite an impressive quality that no other laptop offers.

Laptop in kitty litter

Quick! Put it in kitty litter!

As a result of this accident, I now have a beautiful new machine that is functioning at some sort of light speed. I knew my old laptop was slow but I never quite realised it was a slug. My old machine served me well, giving me almost 5 years of use and travelling with me to Paris and Manchester. I shall miss its heavy body and the sound of the hard drive eventually switching into gear when I turned it on. I’m sorry I spilt tea on it. It was crummy black tea, too. I should have at least taken it out in style with a nice red wine.

I Ain’t Got Beef Wiv Dat

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Innit.

Another week, another Yelp event with more food than even my endless stomach could handle. Last night I headed to Handmade Burger Co on Deansgate with my fellow Yelp buddies for food and frivolity. It was part of the Carnivorous Maximus series of food events being run by Yelp where a group of us go to a meat-tastic restaurant and gorge on cow/pig/chicken/whatever. My current cooking habits and the regularity of my friends saying, “But I thought you were vegetarian, Jess?” would suggest that I am more of a vegetable than meat lover. I would always choose a spinach and feta filo tart over a plate of ribs. Broccoli excites me and pumpkin… wow. Don’t let me start talking about pumpkin. But every now and then my inner beast craves a big chunk o’ meat. A nice rare filet steak with peppercorn sauce, my mum’s various one-pot chicken dishes, or a juicy burger are always welcomed by these taste buds.

I purposefully avoided over eating in the lead up to this event. Burgers are filling things and I wanted to ensure I had enough space in my belly to fit it all in. Plus there would undoubtedly be chips. Mmm… chips.

On arrival we were offered a drink and I was a little disappointed by the beer options as they were your fairly standard Peroni and Coronas. I had come picturing myself with a pint of ale in one hand and a dripping burger in the other. But some clever reflection on the situation made me realise that a glass of wine is far less stomach-swelling than beer and their New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was a much better choice anyway.

After a bit of mingling, we sat down and ordered our food at which point my thoughts on Handmade Burger and Co skyrocketed. I had spotted the “Specialist Cheese” burger – beef patty, salad, tomato and onion with a choice of ‘fancy’ cheese. One of the cheese options was “blue cheese mayonnaise” which sounded both fantastic and disgusting at the same time. Why ruin a perfectly wonderful cheese by adding mayonnaise? The particularly friendly and organised host serving us delivered the best news of the evening when I questioned how ‘mayonnaisy’ the cheese would be. She simply asked the chefs if I could have plain blue cheese added to my burger and my request was made! No hassle, no rolling of the eyes and I’m fairly certain they didn’t spit in my burger. Wonderful. Now that is customer service.

Handmade Burger Co burger

Look at that Stilton.

The burger arrived and I was thrilled to see a sourdough bun instead of the sickly sweet brioche buns most other burger companies insist on using. It wasn’t the greatest bread but at least I didn’t feel like I was eating a very expensive Big Mac. The beef patty was well cooked and still juicy in the middle and the blue cheese was fabulous. Normally I feel slightly ill after eating a burger and regret the decision – not this time.

I did, however, regret the plain potato chips that I ordered as my side dish. While they may be hand-cut, they lacked any flavour and were just a bit stodgy. You certainly get a lot of them though – I was served at least five potatoes worth. Fellow Yelper, Becs, made an excellent comment saying they should recommend sharing a bowl of chips between three people. There were a lot of wasted potatoes on the table last night.

After stuffing ourselves silly on cow and carbohydrates, a selection of what I can only describe as novelty-sized sundaes were placed down the table for us to share. These beasts were massive heart attacks and we were all a bit overwhelmed by the sugar overload. Sure – they were tasty but I would never, ever order one. Once you start piling cream, brownie pieces, ice cream and sauce, into a giant glass, you lose all concept of flavour. I prefer more refined and less sickly desserts but I have a certain housemate who would make that thing disappear in record time.

Handmade Burger Co sundae

What a whopper.

I was quite impressed by Handmade Burger Co and would put it as one of my better burger experiences since moving to the UK. Nothing beats my favourite Jus Burgers back in Perth, but it is nice to see a burger company offering an interesting range of burgers that stems beyond added copious amounts of bacon.

Deutsche Torte in Edinburgh

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

My trip to Edinburgh reminded me of how much I miss good food. While Manchester’s food options are slowly improving, it was so nice to be back in a city with small, independent cafés and bars and little pockets of suburban shops and restaurants. Edinburgh city centre is easily walkable with residential areas close by. I was staying in an apartment that was a ten minute walk from The Mile and the main action of the Edinburgh festival. It was also a five minute walk from streets lined with cute cafés and one-off shops and on my final morning, Les and I went for morning coffee at one of the local hang outs.

German heaven.

German heaven.

Falko is a German bakery and café that sells a jaw-droppingly joyful array of German bread, cakes and meals. It was rye central. As we walked in we received a very German welcome – our lack of decision making skills as we stared drooling over the cakes meant we were holding up the woman in charge. She was to the point, frowned a lot and wanted to run her business. We were disrupting that. It was wonderful – I felt like I was back in Germany being an annoying non-german-speaking tourist.

When we had finally chosen our cakes and ordered hot chocolates each, we sat outside (another faux pas as no one else was sitting out there and that meant additional work for Frau) and awaited our delights. When she delivered our cakes and drinks and we complimented her on the quality of her products, she decided we weren’t that bad and we even received a smile. Win!

I want.

I want.

Let me start with my apple torte – huge, juicy chunks of apple embedded in a not-too-sweet custard filling and perfectly baked pastry. I was instantly transported back to 2007 when I used to eat this every sort of thing every day. No wonder I got fat that year. Coupled with a glass of hot chocolate that was made from actual chocolate. Yes, you’ve heard of the stuff. Dark-brown and kind of sweet. Frau was proud of her hot chocolate and its real-chocolate content and so she should have been. It still wasn’t quite rich enough for me but it was three-hundred-million times better than any hot chocolate I have consumed in Manchester in the last year.

There's real chocolate in that glass.

There’s real chocolate in that glass.

It was one of those eating experiences that reminds me how much I love food and how I could happily spend the rest of my life surrounding myself in apple torte. In 10 days it is my birthday and I am concerned that I won’t be able to find a birthday cake to live up to my high standards. I might need to make my own to avoid the crushing disappointment of excess icing and tasteless sponge. In the meanwhile, my Falko apple torte sits fondly in my memory bank. Happy cake times.

Every Dark Cloud Has a Silver Muesli Lining

Monday, July 28th, 2014

I am taking the “Why haven’t your written on your blog? Are you lazy or useless or something?” comments that I have received lately as positive signs that people are actually reading my words. So FEAR NOT, dear friends, I am back in action. Life decided to take a bit of a dive and throw multiple large spanners in the works, along with a large pile of P-O-O-P. But with this came some big bonuses – I was able to hug my Dad after almost two years of separation. It is amazing how much you can miss this basic physical support and my various exploits on the other side of the world have meant that I have spent very long periods of time without parental embraces. I may be 28, but my inner child still needs a hug every now and then so it was nice to finally get one.

The even bigger bonus was that after giving me a hug, my dad handed over two bags of AMAZINGLY FANTASTIC HOMEMADE MUESLI. To any onlookers, this exchange of plastic zip-lock bags would have looked like we were dealing in contraband drugs. They would almost be correct – this muesli is as addictive as any hardcore drug. Oats, rye, sultanas, apricots, hazelnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, dates, figs, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews – The Davies Family Muesli has been posted to Paris and transported to China. It has now made its way to Manchester where I have been greedily devouring it while also trying to save it for best. This morning I finished Bag #1 and almost cried. I am saving opening Bag #2 until I feel I will be able to cope with it disappearing. I won’t have access to any more for at least six months. I don’t know if I can handle that.

Drool.

Drool.

Birthday Pie

Friday, August 30th, 2013

I wish to officially announce that I am one of the luckiest people in the world and that I am friends with some of the greatest, coolest, best-looking and down right bonza people EVER. Last night I was reminded of this fact when my friend, Pooja, invited me to her house for dinner. Pooja had spent the day saving lives, performing surgery and puncturing people with scalpels and needles and yet still managed to get home and whip me up a SUPER SPECIAL SURPRISE-FILLED BIRTHDAY DINNER!

This three-course menu consisted of home-made beef and mushroom BIRTHDAY PIES served with sweet potato chips and salad.

Birthday pie!

Birthday pie!

This was then followed by TWO dessert courses! I know a friend is a real friend when they feed me two desserts. The first round – a banana BIRTHDAY CAKE adorned with a significant number and cats in candle form.

Birthday cake!

Birthday cake!

The second, two flavours of ice cream, strawberries and meringue. Pooja also bought a bottle of something pink, fizzy and containing indistinguishable ingredients that when combined had created a potentially dangerous drink that just tasted like cordial.

We sat by her window and had views out over the Manchester ship canal while discussing the highs and lows of getting old. We’ve now decided that 38 is the new 28 which was the new 18. So we still have another ten years to go before we have to become serious adults. It was a great night. On top of all of this, Pooja bought me a vintage red Parker Pen from 1964 – the perfect instrument for a writer who is slightly obsessed with red. A major thank you to Pooja for looking after me and being my surrogate sister. I still think we could be identical twins, if only we looked more alike.

The older you get, the more impressive the fire you can create on top of your birthday cake.

The older you get, the more impressive the fire you can create on top of your birthday cake.

Interesting Folk on the Canals of Manchester

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

I feel a natural affinity for water sources and always try to live as close to a river, beach or dirty city canal as possible. I had the Canal Saint Martin in Paris and here I have some of Manchester’s canal system around the corner from my apartment. My extensive time spent by these canals has made me realise that there are a lot of odd personalities who hang around these waterways (this potentially includes me but we’ll just move on.) In recent times, I have witnessed two intriguing moments by the Manchester canals that have made my forehead furrow and my mouth squeeze to one side while saying a quiet “Huh?”

Half Naked Man With Stick

The first of these events occurred after collecting my brother from Oxford train station. I decided to take the scenic route, walking back to my apartment along the canal edge. Up ahead we spotted two guys in their early 20s, lacking tshirts and with sporadic tattoos exposed on their northern-white skin. One of the guys was crouching by the edge of the canal, purposefully whacking at the water with a short tree branch. His determined slaps and desperate whimpers were catching the eyes of many passers-by. As we got closer he looked up exasperatingly at his bemused audience and yelped, “What are you looking at? I want my gram of cocaine, not the dead pigeon!” Sure enough, floating just beyond his branch’s reach was a recently deceased pigeon and a small plastic packet a white powdery substance.

We continued on, leaving him to his futile fishing. I never found out if he managed to get his drugs, however there was a canal boat heading his way and they may have been able to help.

Peter Pan Reads Shakespeare in the Dark

My friend, Pooja, has recently moved into an apartment with fourth storey views over the Manchester Ship Canal. We have spent numerous evenings sitting by her large windows with glasses of wine and bowls of ice cream, discussing life and all of its mysteries. On the first night, we discovered a local fox who roams the deserted building sites next door and we christened him Jack.

Then the other evening as I sat staring down at the water below a young man seemed to appear from nowhere, stepping out from under a tree onto the grassed banks of the canal. He looked like he belonged in a fairytale – he was a lanky fellow, maybe 25 years old, and he was wearing a hat. It was a classic black bowler hat with a rigid rim which he would tip in courtesy at the trams that passed by on the other side of the canal. In one hand he held a book that he occasionally seemed to read. Every few minutes he would shift his position – holding the book outstretched as if reciting poetic lyric when he was standing, or majestically lazing on the grass with one leg bent, looking up and around to see if anyone was watching.

As the sun set and the light became low, we presumed he would leave. Not the case – instead he continued to read, soldiering on through the settling darkness, refusing to let the lack of light stop his reading. The sun had  well and truly gone to bed by the time he left, waltzing down the canal, his hat sitting proudly on his head.

Manchester Ship Canal

Manchester Ship Canal

Woo.

Monday, February 21st, 2011

I have reserved tickets to see Rich Hall, the hilarious grumpy comedian, who just happens to be performing at a small gallery across the canal from me on Tuesday. So happy.

Rich Hall

The comedian version of Tom Waits.