Wednesday, January 31, 2007


A totem pole of wishing pigs!

I am inspired! The Adelaide Fringe Festival has called for artists and community groups to pitch for a chicken-wire pig (the Festival's mascot is a flying pig) to decorate or fill up. Their stomachs are the size of exercise balls. These are big tubby cheerful porkers. The lucky 6 - 8 people who win a pig will have 2 weeks to decorate it, then they'll be slotted into a giant totem pole to watch over the festival throughout March.

What an awesome idea! They have to reflect your wishes for the future. So, another member of the creativity course and I have pitched for a pig. The photo shows her colouring our design in, transforming an intimidating official form into a joyful, colourful piece of paper you really want to pick up! She travels with a little art kit, a set of watercolour pencils, sketchbook and brushes - and a tiny jam jar. I put a couple of drops of water in the jar, and she was able to blend the coloured pencils like paints.

It's a lovely cafe, the Duthy St Deli - if anyone wants to go there, it's Stop 6 on Duthy St. I'd not been there before, so had all the other bus passengers looking out for it. I had an affogato - piping hot espresso that you pour over vanilla ice cream, making something much tastier than the average Farmer's Union Iced Coffee, a heavily sweetened drink in a carton that South Australians are brought up on.

Anyway, I've handed our bid in to the Festival Office - if we succeed in getting a pig, I'll explain our fantastic design and how we're going to make it happen!

This lunchtime I went to see Pan's Labyrinth with an unfortunate friend. We both like arthouse and imaginative movies, but somehow seem to pick particularly gruesome ones. Last time it was The Prestige, excellently done and very thought-provoking, but incredibly dark and creepily disturbing.

Today's film was indeed about a girl who escapes into a fairy-tale world during the Spanish Civil War, as I'd gathered from reviews. However, this is the original kind of fairy tale - not the sanitised Mother Goose kind but frightening and full of Gothic horrors. And the violence and torture were not nice... I had to cover my eyes for some of the close-ups. It's interesting, arthouse films have a certain level of creative freedom: if it were an action film you wouldn't expect so much graphic stuff. It was very well acted, with great set designs and characters, but pretty intense and threatening throughout.

Next time we're going for Marie Antoinette or Volver.

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Monday, January 29, 2007


What I did on Australia Day

Australia Day is not really wildly celebrated in Australia. When I worked in London, I was aware that one day every year the Tube would be filled with cheerful green-and-yellow painted hoons (a word I've only learned since coming here) conducting the drunken singing of Waltzing Matilda by waving inflatable kangaroos. I thought that, apart from the shop in Covent Garden selling Vegemite and Tim Tams, that was it for Aussie ex-pats.

But there is a new tradition here in Australia! Triple J, the independent radio station, plays the Top 100 songs of the last year, as voted for by listeners. Of course there's a lot of debate about which ones will absolutely, definitely be in the Top 10, and which bands have to make it into the list somehow, and which ones you voted for... people even bet on it, and offices will run sweepstakes. It's not quite The Race That Stops The Nation (the Melbourne Cup, which does get people to pause for 5 minutes of their day.) This is more a long backdrop to the entire day - the 100 tracks take around 8 hours to play, as there's constant waffling from the presenters, relatively pointless interviews with the bands ("How does it feel to be Number 34 on the Triple J Top 100?" "We're Number 34! That's so awesome! Whooooo! Shout outs to my Mum and the Adelaide Hills massive!"), and phonecalls from people having parties and barbecues where they listen to the radio for 8 hours "It's madness here in Woolloomoolloo! We're eating snags! We want Scissor Sisters!"

I was invited to a slightly more sedate Australia Day barbeque, and it was actually really mellow and relaxing. We snacked on an irresistible dip made from a hollowed out cob of bread, filled with cream cheese, herbs and French onion soup mix among other mystic ingredients. People arrived. Beer was drunk. The images are of classic Australian icons: the flag on a Hills Hoist (we'd call it a rotary clothesline, but here it's a national icon as it was invented in South Australia); and an amazing Fisher Price toy barbeque set up next to the full sized one. They say kids learn by copying their parents' behaviour - well, here you can train your "bub" in the fine art of sausage sizzling just like his dad!

As people arrived, we began eating, and eating, and eating. I'd like to give a big shout out to Pete's family and the fantastic fruit, vegetables and eggs they grow and share with us: the tomato salad I made was much admired. One dessert was absolutely delicious but sent me into paroxysms of guilt. To make Sinful Ice Cream Cake, crush a packet of choc chip cookies and mix with melted butter to form a cheesecake base. Then take a pint of choc chip ice cream and stir into it ... half a jar of crunchy peanut butter. spread on top of the base and freeze. To serve, make a chocolate fudge sauce by melting dark chocolate with cream. This is amazing, but will glue you to the floor for the rest of the day. The other pic is of a much lighter dessert, and the perfect way to get people eating healthy fruit: skewers of strawberries and melon-balled canteloupes, watermelon and rock melon. They're just so pretty!

The rest of the day was spent reclining on the lawn, listening to music and debating our favourite bands. For facts to back up the argument, people went on the internet to check whether the Triple J website was updating in real time. And it was ... on Eastern time. Sydney is half an hour ahead of South Australia, so the top 5 were already up there, seared into Pete's retinas as he gave a howl. "I didn't want to know that! And you don't either!" he threatened, before dropping increasingly obvious hints about who we'd be hearing next.

The Australian flag was even more controversial at the Big Day Out music festival, where organisers tried to ban it on the grounds that it would incite racial tension. That has happened in the past, but a huge public outcry saw thousands of music lovers proudly flourishing their Southern Cross capes, hats, t-shirts and even tattoos to the TV cameras as they walked in. The flag is in question for various reasons - there are various sides to the debate here.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007


Advice to travellers

I recently got a very mature and considered email from a cousin. Part of my response to her contained travel advice; I've copied this below for anyone who is considering taking time out to go on a journey.

Regarding Gap Year plans, I think youve done very wisely in taking a year out. You need time to decompress from the A level stress, to make some money, to broaden your perspective, and when you do come back to study, you'll appreciate it a lot more.

One tip: wherever you decide to go, don't start in Freshers' Week by alienating everyone with how you discovered amazingly cheap Thai fisherman's pants, and how the locals were all so spiritual, and that you alone have been Awakened to Cosmic Truths. There will be a ton of people who say that, and they can get pretty annoying, not to mention boring once you've heard the spiel the first 10 times. Get to know people first, then bring up your exotic experiences if they're actually interested! I'm sure that I don't need to tell you this, as you're such a friendly people person, but Gap Year bores do get ruthlessly mocked. is the website for the outfit I went to Romania with, Teaching and Projects Abroad. I think the things Karen and I looked for to help us decide on a project were:

a project we felt strongly about doing that would enable us to use our talents to actually affect people's lives, not just being used as spare pairs of hands;

a country with good transport links so that should anything go wrong, we could get home relatively easily;

the opportunity to live in the community, not just stay with other foreigners;

a language we'd be able to pick up the rudiments of so as to make ourselves understood. Romanian is, as the name suggests, one of the Romance family of languages, along with French and Spanish which I'd studied before. (I really, strongly recommend that you get some audio tapes / CDs and do this, even if it's only the basic greetings, finding toilets, and "Does anyone here speak English?" We found the Berlitz tapes make this much easier than the Teach Yourself tapes, which get unnecessarily grammatical too quickly.)

It was also one of the cheapest projects – we saved more money by taking a cheap flight to Prague, and then working our way down by train, allowing us to acclimatise to travelling, rather than flying straight in to the very busy capital. We knew, however, that our host families were getting well recompensed for housing and feeding us, and that the fee included a donation to the orphanage.

As a bonus, we had the option to extend our stay, or transfer from Care (in the orphanage) to Teaching, Archaeology, Journalism or Wildlife Conservation if we weren't happy - it was good to have that option, although we chose to stay where we were.

The director's wife also taught a language course which was a great advantage – when Karen was suddenly taken ill in the remote Danube Delta, where no-one spoke a word of English, I'm so proud that I was able to commandeer the only car in the village from a wedding to get her to the medical centre and answer all the required questions. One thing about travelling is that it certainly gives you initiative!

Take a little photo album to show people your family, and what home life is like for you. You may want a little autograph book where the interesting people you meet can write you messages and give their email addresses.

Phone home once a week if you can. I do this every Sunday, so Mum and Dad don't worry throughout the week, and if I can't call I'll text or email the next day to reassure them.

One final tip: get yourself a money belt that lies flat against your skin, and if you feel unsafe, go into a toilet cubicle where you can organise your money and passport in privacy. Well, that's if there are toilets and not just holes in the ground. I'm sure your parents are having kittens about this, but from someone who's been there, I can tell you that I look back on Romania as being among the best times of my life. There were huge challenges, there were moments when I couldn't help crying, but it was a unique opportunity and I saw a huge amount of a beautiful and hospitable country, on the cusp of major social change, that very few people visit.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


On following a dream

A car park down an Adelaide side street. One Fringe Festival, an artist with a vision spent three weeks cementing toy cars onto this wall, in their thousands. I admire that singlemindedness of intent.

The Walking in this World course is proving interesting - writing three pages every morning means that I'm actually remembering my dreams, and pretty strange they are too. I've always thought that hearing other people's dreams is not particularly interesting, so I won't share the surreal sequences. In analysing them, though, I notice a lot of anxiety, insecurity, not really having any answers, and worrying about being misinterpreted.

I can see where this is coming from. I'm making a conscious effort with writing, and I really would love it if people who ask what I do (a horrible question, as if what you receive money for is What You Are and defines how much respect you should be given, and how much interest you're worthy of) gave me some encouragement, or said that my words touched them. Instead, all anyone seems to ask me about is money. Have I got a proper job yet? In all my time of drifting about the world, seeing sights and storing up memories and ideas; and working clock-watching jobs which I'd do to the best of my ability but come home feeling as if some part of my mind and soul had not received any exercise or challenges ... I've never felt anything like the gratification I get from picking up the latest issue of DB and re-reading my words from a published magazine, or getting an email from The Program to say that they liked my quirky article on going undercover at The Beards' gig. I finally feel that I'm progressing towards somewhere that I want to be, and I'm getting a lot of satisfaction from that - but when people reduce it to a purely financial level, I feel that my joy in creating and sharing just gets chipped away.

Before I started travelling, I used to have a lot of flying dreams, which I took comfort from. Once I left the UK, these dreams, which normally had me escaping from various places in St Albans, simply stopped - I'd addressed that problem. I'm not sure how I'll address this one. I have, however, taken inspiration from Elena, who started the Walking in This World group. After standing in the $2 shop for several minutes staring at the art materials, I took the initial step of buying a set of coloured chalk. For only $2, I have a small colourful box of potential in my bag. Do I dare actually go out and reclaim some pavement space? I have all kinds of positive messages floating in my mind, and I can imagine what colours I'd write them in. It's dark outside now, so I could do a mini guerilla art project as I walk back home through the park ...

If I actually do this, I'll post a picture.

Random facts that I think are interesting:

1. Trivia is the Roman goddess of hounds, sorcery and crossroads

2. In the English language, "ough" can be pronounced in 8 different ways, all contained in this sentence: A tough, dough-faced ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough, coughing and hiccoughing thoughtfully. Reading that reminds me of an acquaintance from uni, "Cactus James," who was from Scarborough. Among his many quirks he was notable for actually laying down money to purchase a single entitled "The Whistle Song," featuring the instruction "Blow your whistle, baby!" and frenetic whistling. After his housemates protested at his repeatedly playing this at top volume, his concession to their long-suffering eardrums was buying an entire album by enthusiastic German remixer DJ Otzi. I considered myself fortunate not to live there.

My latest published articles:

Dallas Crane interview

One I thought went really well: an interview with The Battery Kids

Review of the slightly daunting Menopause: The Musical

Attending a Moonlight Cinema screening - read it and weep, you chilly people in the northern hemisphere!

Interview with the Dairy Brothers that got overtaken by Lord of the Rings ... their feud with The Beards clearly continues!

A strange night out at the Rambutan Circus Collective

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Kicking it up a notch!

No, it's not the door to my new residence ... but when I noticed this is the Adelaide CBD, my mind immediately sparkled with possibilities. It's so stagey, with the gold detailing on the blue - I feel as if on the other side of a door like this, one could perfectly reasonably expect to walk into Gringotts Bank, from the Harry Potter books, a place of magic and alarming perspectives, staffed by goblins.

Incidentally, if anyone reading this works behind this door, this is just my fertile imagination, all right? I'm not calling you personally a goblin.

This week will be one of my busiest so far. On Saturday I moved into a new house share. Sunday was spent unpacking and checking out my new suburb, Unley - there's a lovely library, 2 gyms in case I do suddenly go on a fitness kick, and most importantly, lots of large trees lining the streets. This means that even when the temperature is 41 degrees, I can still walk out to the shops by hiding in patches of shade. Pity the poor tennis players at the Melbourne Cup, who have to have ice baths and rehydration therapy after matches in the heat!

On Monday I organised the rest of the week, wrote up CD reviews and picked up my mail, including a lovely letter from Grandpa with memories of his early career farming. I walked around smiling all day, and read highlights out to Pete - who wished that he'd been able to collect similar memories from his grandparents.

Yesterday I went to review Menopause: The Musical with lucky housemate Pete as my plus 1. A great show for women, but a few times the sheer brashness and up-front nature of their discussion had my toes curling a little: goodness, those endless hot flushes! And just to think, all this is ahead of me! Pete was initially dubious but came out of the theatre with, I think, a new understanding of his female relations.

This morning I interviewed local band The Battery Kids, softly spoken lads who nevertheless had some entertaining stories which I think made a good piece. This afternoon Rachel's accompanying me to For Your Consideration; tomorrow I'm interviewing Aussie band Dallas Crane over the phone, then reviewing Highway Rock'N'Roll Disaster; then on Friday seeing the Dairy Brothers' new single launch with Jasmine. The sooner I get a laptop to type this up on, the better!

I've also started a creativity programme, Walking in this World, supported by an online group. I'm hoping it proves helpful: I have to scribble 3 "morning pages" at the start of each day, to get rid of nagging worries and stimulate my creativity. They're personal, but I'm prepared to exclusively reveal that each snapshot of my mental state first thing in the morning has featured some comment about me still feeling tired and grumpy without that vital first cup of coffee...

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Sunday, January 14, 2007


Positive changes!

Good things are happening!

My wonderful American friends Julia and Steve have welcomed an adorable baby daughter who rejoices in the name of Aerin Syrah. Congratulations to the happy family! I finally spoke to Jules for over an hour today and they're both head over heels in love with the little one.

I have moved to a fixed address, for the first time in 6 months! I'm sharing an apartment in peaceful Unley, just south of the city centre, with a lovely guy from book group. The sun is shining, I'm checking out my new local library as I write this, and then I'm going shopping to make a celebratory dinner tonight followed by watching Much Ado About Nothing - a new modern British version apparently set in a TV station.

Australian television is fairly dire - the shows I enjoy watching (Grey's Anatomy, Numb3rs, House, NCIS, The OC, Black Books) are all either American or British. On the plus side, this means I have more time for the important things in life, like reading books.

The photo is of another exotic tree, this time one at the bottom of my new street. I don't know the name of it, but the red cups are slowly being shed to the ground, and walking underneath them along the pavement you hear a soft dry rattling like a rain stick. It's not the leaves rustling, but the dried seed pods being stirred by the breeze.

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Friday, January 12, 2007


Surprises, friendships and origami stars

well, things are moving on apace. I've applied to review Big Day Out Adelaide for, a site I've visited occasionally over the last few months. I would be so chuffed to win a ticket - if I got to go there and report on the experience, I'd not only interview the bands and punters, but also try and talk to the roadies, sound mixers, food vendors, security guards etc as I think the backup staff must have a lot of insider gossip! Vibewire is particularly notable for one very helpful columnist, Hailey Baldwin, who gives practical advice on pitching articles and getting published.

I got a message this morning from the former boyfriend, which surprised me a lot. After being left heartbroken, he realises that it hurts! and that perhaps it hurt me!

On the one hand, it's good to get some closure: finally, a genuine apology. I could wish that he'd said this sooner, when I was still crying myself to sleep every night. But perhaps it was something that he had to go through, thanks to the laws of karma. I'm glad that eh's come to some self-knowledge, but I thought I'd feel triumphant, dancing around going "Hah! Not so nice, is it? Yeah! Sob for me!" In fact, I just feel ... empty. Detached from his emotions. A certain amount of pity.

He actually asked me why I was always so nice to him. Well, when I tried to put myself in his shoes after the breakup, it came to me that he probably found it quite hard to look at himself in the mirror, knowing the mistakes he'd made and how badly he'd handled things. Also, to take a broader view, there's been so much negativity and hurt, for so long, that it makes no sense to put more of it out there.

The thing is that I want him to be happy. I'm not the one to make him happy, but I hope he finds someone who is. Does this mean that we can be friends? Do I even want him for a friend, knowing that he's not the fantastic person I thought he was? It's easier to speak on the phone than to see him in person, certainly, which I'm not sure I'll ever want to do again. On the other hand, after 3 years together we probably know each other better than our families and friends. And there aren't many people - I think this is particularly true in men's lives - that you can really open up to about your emotions, and share your upsets with. I'm English, he's Canadian, so we're both away from our immediate support networks, I suppose. So I've come to the conclusion that I will be civil and supportive as much as I can.

God! I guess I am learning all the time. You may bury your head in the sand in a relationship, blindly carrying on and not really developing further, but afterwards when you look back, even if there's nothing else positive ... you gain some self-knowledge.

I also want to pay tribute to all my friends. Tash and Rob who took me in, and also forced me to celebrate my birthday with delicious yum cha and actually laugh again, my wonderful and understanding cousin Anna who was a huge support, and everyone else who called, texted, emailed, or just hugged. That was another good thing: looking around me, I realised just how much love and concern I was surrounded by.

Positive vibes to everybody!

Now I need to get cleaning: when I return the keys to this flat I'm minding, I want to leave it pristine, all the linen washed, wine in the fridge, flowers with a nice scent and my 2 comedy CDs of "I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue." I hope Rachel will like them. I've also used up one of her charmingly tiny jars of Moccona coffee, so am embarking on a creative project: to clean it out and fill it with multicoloured origami stars. This is a haven of peace and calm: the picture shows the view from my balcony as the sun goes down.

Incidentally, if anyone's reading this and thinking, Gosh, she sounds like a lovely house sitter ... I am available from May onwards! and yes ... I will travel.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007


Good things in the New Year

Major good news: I've been granted the second year's working holiday visa. Thank goodness for that, after 2 months of worrying. One more year here to see everything that so far I haven't been able to (Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Far North Queensland, Byron and Nimbin ... it might not sound like much but if you look at a map the distances involved are pretty enormous!)

Even better news: My sister's coming to visit in April!!!

It was an unusual New Year's Eve this time around. Last year's was great - 4 wheel driving on the beautiful Fraser Island with 5 good companions. This year, instead of going out drinking and watching fireworks in Adelaide, I joined a good friend's family at their Adelaide Hills mansion. I hadn't expected them to be millionaires, but it was a stunning place with a new pool and all the entertainment one could want. We ended up singing Singstar Rocks before racing down to restrain the dogs at midnight in case the fireworks startled them. I felt like one of the adults for the first time: really interesting people were around debating climate change, international projects, sharing gossip - and I felt like I had something to contribute to the conversation too, rather than wanting to hang out with the kids all night. The teenagers, rather than playing or celebrating, were going on the internet trying to find the footage of Saddam being hung! Who would have children these days? It must be a horrific job to be a parent trying to stop your little darlings from seeing this deeply disturbing stuff.

On the TV they showed what was going on in Sydney ... yes, gorgeous fireworks, but minor celebrities dancing around for half an hour first? I can see they must sell a lot of advertising in the run up, but for those in Australia at the same time next year who want to see what's going on, just turn your TV on at midnight and skip all the pointlessness.

Resolutions for this year include:

  1. Writing more - I'm not setting a target of 1000 words a day, because I know from experience I wouldn't always do that and then would beat myself up over it. I will at least update this a couple of times a week.
  2. Dancing more - I lost the joy back there for a while. But I'm excited to be part of a gang of 5 amazing Adelaide people starting a belly dance class this Sunday. Wish me luck.
  3. De-cluttering. I shouldn't have to explain this, but it's ridiculous for a backpacker to travel with 8 bags of stuff. Having settled in places for months at a time, I do tend to amass things, books, more clothes than I need, and lots of tickets and mementoes I'm planning to scrapbook. The current mission is to finish a scrapbook by January 11th, when I move out of this house-sitting place. I will stop getting sucked in to all the books here, and start organising so as to leave with less stuff than I brought. I would post a photo of what I'm carrying around with me, but I'm too embarrassed by it!
  4. Be a better friend. Last year I went through a brutal break up, the day before my birthday. I had to write possibly the most difficult email ever to all my family, friends and all the mutual friends who had only ever known us as a couple. After being on the road for so long, I'd half lost touch with many people. But I was amazed and touched by the huge outpouring of support that came in from practically everyone I knew, including people I thought of as Eric's friends. I was pretty emotional at that time and would read these thoughtful messages and cry. What I didn't do was write back to these people. Several months passed, I got a measure of equilibrium back, and I felt too ashamed to write now after so long. My conscience has been pricked, however, by a strong family member whose husband recently passed away. Of course I wrote to her, but stressed that she must have a lot going on and not to bother responding. But she sent a wonderful note to me at Christmas saying how much she appreciated what I wrote, really putting love and best wishes into it. If she can do this, after such a bereavement, I think it's high time I made amends as well.

I'm proud of where I've got to, though, and I have a lot to look forward to.

Want to see what I've had published so far?

So proud of this one, a truly weird interview with Adelaide's bearded messiahs The Beards (the photo above shows Kirsty, Jasmine and myself appropriately disguised to attend their gig I'm the evil Grand Vizier, Kirsty is the Billy Connolly lookalike and Jasmine's rocking those fluffy sideburns. Hey, it was Christmas! Without our own facial hair we had to use what we had at hand - namely a feather boa and purple tinsel.)

A slightly more sedate interview with Adelaide band Is This Art?

A review of KT Tunstall's album Eye to the Telescope

Review of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas

Review of Sam Shepard's controversial play The God of Hell

Review of Translations by Brian Friel

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