Friday, April 29, 2011

Ten years ago

I confess. I watched The Wedding. Who doesn't want to see some real life fairy tale action?

Despite my earlier pondering over the media coverage of it, my curiosity got the better of me. I had to see The Dress. A mild bout of cough-induced insomnia saw me still awake at midnight, and I briefly toyed with the idea of watching the live broadcast - which I believe saw the ceremony airing at 4am West Coast time - but I quickly realised that would result in one zombiefied mumma for the rest of the day.

Instead, I set the DVR to record it, and in the morning I informed the Faery that rather than Sesame Street, our breakfast viewing would be The Wedding. And that's what we did - with my finger on fast forward for the more boring parts.

I surprised myself, and enjoyed the pomp and pageantry far more than expected. I may have even had a tear or two spring up. As for The Dress? I approve. Elegance personified.

I also had another reason for feeling sentimental over The Wedding.

You see, in two days' time (May 1st), J and I will be celebrating the fact that we got hitched ten years ago. In London, long before the world had heard of Kate Middleton.

Watching the London scenery on TV brought back memories of our own spring wedding in Cool Britannia. Of course, ours was a much simpler affair with just a handful of friends and family, at the local town hall, against the backdrop of the London May Day riots. It was practically an elopement, followed by a merry dinner of tapas and too much sangria - fourteen jugs between eleven of us. A fabulous night in Covent Garden, and then an equally fabulous week in Barcelona.

As spectacular as The Wedding was to watch, I am so glad that mine was such a simple day. Although, I imagine the roar of hundreds of thousands of spectators outside the abbey, cheering for you and your love, would be more than impressive. An everlasting memory, I'm sure.

However, I love the memories of our special day. My red dress. Impossibly green gardens. Grey skies. Tulips. Relaxed. Sweetness in the air. Black cabs. Laughter. Sangria. Love.

Lots of love.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ladybird Love

I love the idea behind Wordless Wednesday, but have decided not label my posts this way should they happen to fall on a Wednesday. I'm simply no good at restrictions - there are days where I have much to say, and others where wordless suits me fine. 

Anyhow, today? Another hot spring day in LA, so we got our park visit in earlier than usual. Along the way, the Faery was obsessed with catching a butterfly for a pet. I tried explaining that:

a) she usually runs away from them as soon as they flutter in her direction - might make catching one a bit tricky, and
b) it would be cruel to keep a butterfly in a box, when they need plenty of room to stretch their wings and fly.

She wasn't impressed with my attempts at destroying her dreams, and there were tears... until I found a ladybird.

It was love at first sight and for the next fifteen minutes, this ladybird accompanied the Faery everywhere. Swing rides, slides, butterfly-spotting, and squirrel chasing. All the while, the Faery spoke to the ladybird in soft, cooing tones.

There was something so relaxing about sitting under the dappled shade of pine trees, hearing the birds singing and the sound of upper branches creaking with the younger squirrels frisking and leaping. Not to mention the sweet smell in the air - no LA smog here, thankfully.

What can I say? North America knows how to make nature enjoyable. This stage of spring in Australia, and I'd be swatting away the millions of buzzing flies, which used to drive me insane.

Eventually, I think the ladybird cottoned on to the Faery's intentions of bringing her home, and flew away. This was not a happy turn of events for her, and it was a miserable car ride home. Sigh.

At least I got some pretty photos.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Colour and munch

The Easter Bunny has been, and that can only mean one thing.

Spring is well and truly here.

Spring means it's time to paint toenails - my one concession to girliness.

It also happens to be April 25 - Anzac Day - even though we're almost a day behind Australia.

That means it's time for some homemade Anzac biscuits...

Although, any time is a good time for Anzac biscuits.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Off the hook?

I'm very lucky that most Sunday mornings, J gets up with the girls and lets me sleep in for an hour or two. You know you're getting old when 9am is considered a luxurious sleep in. The sad truth is that if I stay in bed any longer, my body gets all stiff and sore, so that kind of undoes any of the good that comes from extra sleep. Youth has left the building.

Not all of my Sunday sleep-ins are of quality sleep though. Sometimes when I go back to sleep, I have exhausting dreams that leave me wishing I'd just got up at my usual time.

This morning's effort had me thinking I was in my final year of high school, gearing up to do my Higher School Certificate.

Only, I realised I hadn't set foot in the school for a while. Quite a while. Shit.

What was on the syllabus? What assignments did I need to be working on? Shit, shit.

What was due? When? Shit, shit, shit.

What had I been doing with my time? Really - what had I been up to? I couldn't remember what was making me too busy for school. I knew I hadn't been sitting around, doing nothing. I hadn't been wasting my time.

Panic time.

I haven't studied! I don't know what I should be studying! I am so going to fail, just on attendance alone. Fuck.

And then...

Hang on... let's back up a minute. I do have my HSC. Oh, sweet relief! I don't have to sit those exams after all.


And what's that? There's more? Oh yeah, I have a university degree, too. 

Wake up, very sweaty.

What a relief to realise that the reason why I'd been too busy to go to school was because I'd actually been living life. A 'grown-up' life. As for the feeling of 'what have I been doing with my days?', I'm sure it's got something to with my current unemployed, at-home-with-kids status. I do know that's sure as hell a good reason not to be going to high school - at least I'm off the hook there.

I used to dream fairly regularly about impending assignments that were long overdue, missing classes at uni, being on the wrong train, and so on. Standard stress dreams, but it's been many years since those particular themes entered my head space.

I assume it's because the other day, I received an official letter stating that my application for a work permit has been approved.


I'm not sure what I want to do next. The Faery starts kindergarten in August, but in California, kindergarten is only a half day. Do I really want to put Miss Pie in day care all day, plus fork out for half a day of after-school care for the Faery? Tricky, and I'm not sure it's worth it. Not to mention I have a feeling that part-time teaching gigs are even harder to come by these days, and I'm not ready for full-time work yet. So, those are the cons.

On the other hand, some extra income would be very welcome. Embraced with open arms. Socially, I know I'd benefit from a job, too. I could definitely do with some regular adult face-to-face interaction.

Working daytimes could be too complicated - at least for the next year or so. Some kind of evening work, during the week, is probably the best option for now.  But what are my options? Private English language tuition? Maybe, but I find one-on-one tutoring so draining. An evening job in retail, when J is home and the girls are asleep? I like the idea of disappearing off to a bookshop like Barnes & Noble, a few times a week. That would be ideal, but I don't know if I'd be so lucky to get the hours that suit me. On paper, I'd look overqualified. And crap with the techy side of things.

I'm expecting the stress/crossroads dreams to make a starring comeback until I sort out what I want to do...

Dream job?    (photo source)

Friday, April 22, 2011

American Tea Party

It's Good Friday today, and that means... J is at work. Unlike in Australia, where most people are gearing up for an extra long weekend (four days' worth), today is just like any other day in the US.

Oh well.

This morning, the Faery had the brilliant idea of holding a tea party. Not the imaginary sort, but with real food and drink. She's had a toy tea set since her second birthday, and was adamant that we should use the teapot. It's one of those Fisher Price ones with a lid that has some kind of motion sensor and plays horrendous electronic music whenever tilted to pour. Of course, it was a gift from her grandparents. They have more of a sense of humour than me when it comes to toys with sounds and flashing lights, and seem to think it quite funny to give such gifts. Naturally, the lid for this teapot has been 'misplaced', on more than one occasion. Ahem.

The Faery also wanted to use her matching teacups, but I explained that as they each have a small hole in one side, they wouldn't hold the drinks very well (thanks, Fisher Price). Luckily, we have some small Oriental tea cups - perfect for little hands - and she was happy with the substitution. She then spent the morning going through her various cooking toys to find the perfect spoon to stir our drinks with. Attention to detail is becoming her thing.

Next, the food. Neither of us drinks or likes tea, so that was out of the question. Cucumber sandwiches? Not going to happen, either. And given how picky the Faery is with food in general, I had a feeling that any scones with cream and jam would just have the jam licked off.

So, we settled for a tea party with American flavours. Old-fashioned lemonade from the tea pot. Peanut butter sandwiches cut into small triangles. A couple of baby cupcakes, filled with raspberry jam inside, and topped with a tiny chocolate Easter egg. Being Good Friday, the final touch was a quartered hot cross bun, each part slathered in butter. The Faery thought each quarter was a whole bun, and very happy with this. I chose not to correct her way of thinking.

Miss Pie is at that age where she in destruction mode, oh, at least 90% of the time. For this reason, we decided to exclude her from the tea party. As soon as she was tucked up for her midday nap, the Faery and I set up our little party.

It was fun - the Faery and I used to be joined at the hip, but rarely get any one-on-one time together anymore, so it was nice to enjoy each other's company. She was mistress of the ceremony, and got a huge kick out of pouring our 'tea' into the cups. She loved stirring the lemonade in our teacups. She chose her spoon well, and it made satisfying chinking sounds against the porcelain.

The food went down very quickly, and we agreed that we should make this a regular thing. Too often, I find myself nagging her not to do this or that, and getting irritated at silly things she does - as all four-year-olds do. It was lovely to just enjoy her company, and be reminded of what a gorgeous little soul she really has. I need to do that more often.

As much as I was tempted, I didn't take photos. I needed to be present in the moment. Besides, there are going to be plenty more tea parties in future. That much I know.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SF - The quirky and the colourful

I've had fun going through the hundreds of photos I took in San Francisco. Unfortunately, in my rush to get a bulk of them onto Facebook for family to see, I didn't notice at first that so many of them were overexposed. Oh well. Thanks to the wizardry of computers, I've tweaked quite a few photos, and am happy with the results. Hey, I'm still learning, and never claimed to be great at taking photos! I just enjoy it, that's all.

For today, I'm going to share some of the quirkier and colourful sights of San Francisco. Check back later for the scenic money shots...

Monday, April 18, 2011

San Francisco's nutshell

My thoughts on lovely San Francisco:

- It felt strangely familiar, like I'd been there before. I guess that's from all the movies and TV shows I've seen over the years. Google Street View may or may not have had something to do with this, too.

- It's like a weird (but good) hybrid of places I've been. Not quite the Pacific Northwest vibe, but not SoCal either. The beautiful old buildings, and the way that turning every corner revealed something new and pretty to see... in a way, it's like the Paris of the US. That's a compliment, by the way.

- San Francisco has more culture in one little finger than L.A. has in her entire body. Bohemian and erudite. Beauty and brains. Love it.

- Fog is funny. It was constantly on the move, no matter what time of day, and as a result, it felt like the city was shapeshifting. It made for some interesting views.

- I was prepared for hills, and lots of them. I've lived and spent time in some damn hilly places over the years. Sydney has its fair share, as does Brighton in the UK. However, I was naive. Nothing could have prepared me for five or six hours at a time, on foot, traversing those hills. I would also like to point out that the terrain feature on Google Maps really did not adequately indicate the level of steepness. My legs are jelly, and today I am hobbling about like a person twice my age (which, as of last Friday, would be seventy).

- I now know that I need to start going to the gym again. Telegraph Hill just about killed me with all the steps. On the bright side, I'm fairly certain that I walked off a few kilos over the weekend. That's possible, right?

- Bums, panhandlers, hobos, beggars... I'm not sure what the politically correct term even is these days. Do I care? Not really. But in The Haight, they dwell on every block. Not really surprising, seeing as there is a massive park only a few blocks north called Panhandle Park. I learned that I needed to be discrete with my camera - quite a task, as SLRs aren't really a discrete sort of camera. I was asked countless times if I wanted to take a photo of them. Annoying. However, one of them at least had a sense of humour. He asked me, "Do you want to hear a joke? Or take a picture of a joke?" and smilingly pointed at himself. Maybe I shouldn't have, but I had to laugh.

- Sequoias. Beautiful trees, and I just love the word. I love how it sounds in my head. I don't even know if I pronounce it correctly, but I still love how it sounds.

- The BART ticket machines (at the train stations) made me feel like I'd had a lobotomy. Ridiculously illogical, and had me scratching my head. I've used public transport in a lot of cities, but the BART machines win the prize for most stupidly unhelpful. Do you select your destination on the machine? No. You need to look it up on a table that is taped to the machine. This table tells you the fare. The first option the machine gives you is to insert your fare - cash or card. Then, you need to enter the amount for the fare. Is there a numbered key pad for this? No. First, you put in either the correct amount of cash, or more if you don't have the right change. Are you with me? This is where it gets silly. Say I need to pay $3.80 but only have a $5 note. I insert the note, then press the button that says "Subtract $1". Then, I press the button that says "Subtract 5c", four times (to subtract 20c)... then the machine prompts you to confirm the amount, prints the ticket, and spits out the change. Yeah, far more complicated than it needs to be. Shtoopid.

- I had fun confusing people. When asked how long I was staying in San Francisco, my answer each time was, "Just the weekend". That was when people would pick up on my accent, and assume I'd flown fourteen hours from Sydney (or Germany, as one misguided soul thought - bless him), just for one night in San Francisco. I could see it on their faces, and the relief when I'd tell them that I live in LA was palpable.

- Another comparison between LA and San Francisco: it appears that one group of underclass has simply been traded for another. In LA, most of the gardeners and manual labourers seen are of Mexican background. Any dirty job that a person doesn't want to do, is done by these hardworking immigrants. In San Francisco, I wasn't aware so much of a Hispanic presence, but noticed a lot of the lowly-paid jobs appeared to be filled by African Americans, or older Chinese immigrants.

- Am I glad I went alone? YES. Of course, I missed my little people (and my man, too). It goes without saying. But it was so nice to have a break from wiping snot, changing nappies, thinking of ways to keep them entertained, listening to irritating cartoon voices on the idiot box, picking up toys for the umpteenth time in a day... you get the picture.

- San Francisco now has a little piece of my heart.

Stay tuned for photos. But first, some words on this city from one of my all time favourite comedians:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Happy Birthday to me

Make my own birthday cake? Yeah, right. This chocolate raspberry baby was bought from Porto's this morning, an amazing Cuban bakery which has me drooling every time I set foot inside.

We're talking chorizo pies, potato balls (with spicy meat on the inside, like deep fried balls of spicy shepherds pie) and guava cream cheese pastries (refugiados) ... a force of divinity which words cannot do justice to describe. They make huge cups of fresh OJ, something I can be very picky about (I love it just-squeezed and not from a bottle, which too many places are guilty of serving, yet calling it 'fresh'). A bonus? Their coffee is pretty good. Porto's is always packed to the the brim with people, and justifiably so. There is never a 'quiet' time to go.

Lastly, I love hearing so much Spanish all over the place. I like to pretend for a moment that I'm somewhere in Latin America.

I'm not sure if I can wait for J to come home before I get stuck in... but either way, I'm confident that this cake is going to be fabulous.

....then... San Francisco, here I come!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Victoria's Snot

About a month ago, I made a promise to myself that when I'd finished for good with breastfeeding Miss Pie, I'd treat myself to some pretty new bras.

I am well and truly over the bras I currently wear. I've had most of them since I was pregnant with the Faery. That was five years ago, and I hung onto them for round two, buying a few more when needed. So, in this five-year period? I've been through two pregnancies, and a combined total - so far - of thirty-three months breastfeeding. That's more than four years of wearing boring, unflattering maternity bras.

Time has not been kind to the bras. They have lost what little shape they had to begin with, stretched and faded, and ride around my ribcage in an annoying fashion. Most likely, they are not the correct size for me any more but at this stage of the game, I can't justify buying new maternity bras. I weaned the Faery at eighteen months and - in the name of fairness - intend to do the same with Miss Pie. That will be only three months away, so I just need to suck it up for now.

Then... hello underwire! Hello again to proper support.

When I made myself this promise last month, I decided the ideal way to treat myself would be to make my new purchases from Victoria's Secret. I mean, I'm living in the US now, so why not take advantage of what's on offer?

I will buy my new bras in person - I don't trust making such purchases online - but I want to have an idea of what styles are being sold, so I decided to order a catalogue.

Why not just look at their website, I hear you ask? Well, although it's just browsing at this stage, it's still part of the plan to spoil myself. Sitting hunched over a computer to look at potential new bras? Nah. I want to put my feet up, with a nice beverage - which may or may not be alcoholic - and flick through glossy pages.

Ordering this catalogue was done through the Victoria's Secret website. When the request was done, I was sent a confirmation email, informing me that the catalogue would arrive within 7-10 business days. Fine by me, I'm not in a hurry.

That was a month ago. Three weeks later? Still no sign of the catalogue, so I emailed them to let them know. The reply I received was both apologetic and amusing. They apologised and said they were sending another catalogue. In the mean time, they wrote, did I know they have a website which could be viewed? (a link was provided) Okay, maybe those weren't their exact words, but it was something similar to that effect.

Umm... let me see... yes, I did know about their website because it was the only way I could request a catalogue.

This ramble is going somewhere, I promise.

The catalogue arrived today. I retrieved it from our mail box, and once inside, began to flip through it.

Here's the problem: both girls have been sick with a cold for the last few days, and I appear to have caught their germs. Awesome. I am covered in streaks of toddler snot, my own nose is running like a tap, my eyes are itchy from all the sneezing, and I am pretty sure a beauty of a cold sore is starting on my top lip.

My moral to this tale is this. Looking at a Victoria's Secret catalogue for inspiration when feeling decidedly unattractive and under the weather? Not a smart idea. Now I feel even less like hot stuff.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Six more sleeps until I'm in San Francisco.

Five more sleeps until my birthday, but I am infinitely more excited about having a weekend alone to do some serious exploring. Not that I'm dreading my birthday - I'm not of an age yet where I hate turning another year older - but a weekend in San Francisco? Now, that is something to break into song and dance about.

My flights will be just over an hour, but allowing for getting to and from Oakland International Airport, I will have slightly over thirty hours to see what San Francisco has to offer. That's about the longest I can be away from Miss Pie for, as I've yet to fully wean her. It's not so much her that I'm worried about, but my boobs... but hey, it's a small price to pay for a weekend of freedom.

Anyhow, thirty-something hours to experience San Francisco? Not enough time, I'm well aware.

I need to get cracking and work out a plan of action this week. I'm not one for strict itineraries when travelling - I prefer to just go with the flow and see where I'm taken - but all my research so far has indicated that there is an incredible amount of things I want to do, places I want to see.

I need to be brutal. Museums and galleries are off the list. In the past, I would have made every effort to see some artwork, but time will not be my luxurious friend on this trip.

Instead, I want to take in as much of the outdoor vistas as possible. Get snap-happy. That's what makes me happy these days. San Francisco is famous for it's beautiful views, hilltops, and parks. I'm going to need some serious walking shoes, which is lucky, because I bought a pair of much needed new sneakers the other week. As in, the first new pair in probably three years. These babies are so cushioned, they make me feel like I'm flying, so all those hilly walks should be a breeze.

With jeans, camera around my neck and brand new, glowing white sneakers, I'm going to fit right in - just like a tourist from the Midwest. Hmm, maybe I should ditch the jeans in favour of cargos.

The timing of this trip happens to coincide with the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown. I was planning to see Japantown anyway, given how much I love all things Japanese. Apparently after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, Japan was the largest contributor to aid relief and helping to rebuild the city, which will make this year's festival somewhat poignat, too. The festival will be on for the entire weekend, so I'll only be able to see a small part of it if I'm serious about seeing other parts of San Fransisco.

I really don't know how I'm going to see everything I want. I will be on foot, or using cable cars and other public transport. I am known to friends as the Queen of Public Transport because I've always been good at figuring it out, no matter where I am - well, before kids, that was. A lot of that was down to my issues with driving, but I'm still a big believer in public transport - at least in cities where it's efficient and well-maintained. Los Angeles is not one of those cities.

So on my hitlist: Japantown, Chinatown (of course!), Golden Gate Park, The Presidio, Nob Hill, Telegraph Hill, Haight-Ashbury, maybe Fisherman's Wharf (for the yummy food I've read about), maybe Alamo Square (to see the iconic Painted Ladies)... did someone say tourist? If I had more time, I would also love to see The Castro and The Mission districts, but I have a feeling that would be pushing my luck.

Luckily, my hotel will be two blocks away from the California Street cable car, and not far from Downtown, so exploring should be fairly easy.

I think I have a fairly good idea of what I'll try to see during the day, so next? I just need to think about about how I'll spend Saturday night in San Franscisco. I'll be alone, so nothing wild. I also want to travel light (I'll be carrying my stuff around everywhere) so I want to avoid needing to get dolled up for anywhere too dressy. One thing's for sure, though. I'm going to enjoy having my king-sized hotel bed all to myself. All of it.

And with any luck, I may even find somewhere that makes a good coffee. It's got to be better than what's on offer here in LA, right? That would be the icing on the cake.

If there are any readers out there with more specific suggestions or recommendations that fit into the areas I'll be in, I'm all ears and would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

(Less Words) Wednesday - Mad Men

Sigh. I love this show. L-O-V-E. It is in my top 5 of favourite TV shows ever - possibly even at the top.

The fantastic writing, the characters, the clothes, hair and make-up. The attention to detail. The set design. Joan Holloway's va va voom curves. Don Draper. I can't get enough.

Courtesy of Netflix, I finally got my hands on Series 4, and as much as I want to sit down and watch every episode in one big marathon, I won't. I can't. It's like a box of the finest quality Belgian chocolates - you don't eat them all at once, because then you can't savour the amazing flavours and texture that each one has to offer. You need to let the aftertaste linger. Appreciate. So for now, it's one episode a night, one disc a week.

Mad Men knows how to leave a girl wanting more...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tiaras, stars and stripes

Photo source
Who would have thought that America would be so interested in the upcoming Royal wedding?

By America, I'm not referring to the average person - obviously I don't know what they're thinking. It's the media that I'm talking about. They are obsessed, and this has completely taken me by surprise.

Growing up in a Commonwealth country, I've been used to seeing magazine covers frequently graced by Princess Diana, and constant articles about various members of the Royal family. Then we moved to the UK, and I really saw just how much media coverage is devoted to that family.

I wasn't surprised, though. Love them or hate them, they are the British Royal family. Of course the papers in the UK are going to be filled with stories, ranging from somewhat informative to the downright ludicrous and salacious.

For what it's worth, I don't consider myself a monarchist. In fact, as far as Australia is concerned, I'd say I'm a staunch republican (and no! not as in American politics). I don't believe that Australia - on the other side of the world from Britain - needs a royal family as a figurehead. It's time to cut the ties.

When Australia held a referendum to become a republic, I was living in London and made the trek to the Australian embassy to have my vote. I voted yes to a republic, and was hugely disappointed that more people voted no.

Despite these feelings, the longer I lived in the UK, the more of a soft spot I developed for the Queen. I came to understand the hard work that she actually does, and the seriousness with which she takes her role. Sure, the ease of life and lack of hard work that's attributed to so many other members of the Royal family may be a fair accusation, but not so for the Queen. She's a good sort, that one. I think there's still a place for her (and family) in Britain.

So there it is. I'm quite fond of old Lizzie... BUT you won't catch me buying magazines purely because of their stories or gossip about Prince William and company. Not interested. Couldn't care less, and I still believe - passionately - that Australia should be a republic.

Moving to the US a year ago, the lack of media coverage on the Royal family was refreshing.

And then last November, that engagement happened. Since then, on a daily basis, Wills and Kate have been the topic of choice on various morning talk shows (including The View), and People magazine - the only gossipy mag that I allow myself to buy - has a weekly page dedicated to the Royal wedding plans.

I never expected this level of interest here... The dress! Her fitness regime! Her lustrous hair! The rings! He's not going to wear a ring! Will they have a pre-nup? Who's invited? Which channel will be broadcasting it live?

Perhaps it's because the golden era of the Kennedys - the closest to a royal family in the US - is no more.
Perhaps people are getting tired of the column inches devoted to reality 'stars' and teenage mums who have found fame via MTV (do not get me started on that!).

I have a feeling that it's simply a case of people wanting to witness a real, bona-fide fairy tale. A lavish fairy tale, and not a tacky Hollywood wedding.

As for me? I don't really have an opinion on Wills and Kate. As with all newlyweds, I just wish them the best and hope they are truly happy together. A happy Hollywood ending.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The West End Girl

Lately, I seem to have my head stuck in the past. Not in a bad way, I hope. Not in the sad sense of reliving moments of glory, and yearning for the 'good old days'.

For a start, I don't think I've ever had proper moments of real glory. Not in the true sense of the word.

Instead, I've just been having little moments of nostalgia, and appreciating those memories, the small gems in my life so far, because I know there are plenty more to come.

In the last week, I've heard "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys, twice. I hadn't heard it for years, and it brought back quite a few memories. Hearing it twice, when out and about, was a sign for me to give in, and let some of these memories wash over me.

I remember being a little obsessed with the song as a 16-year-old, when I bought Discography: The Complete Singles Collection. It was back when CDs hadn't been around for long, and was the second or third CD I bought with my part-time earnings. 

I used to plug the head phones from my old walkman into my gleaming, boxy CD player at night, when the house was quiet. I would sit in an old armchair in my room, listening to this album. I would replay "West End Girls" at the end of the album, several times, before being content enough to climb into bed and sleep. This was before Discmans were around, and the idea of something like an iPod would have been unthinkable. I think I eventually copied it onto a tape, so I could listen to it in bed with my Walkman.

By the time my CD collection had expanded considerably, I was living in London.

Strangely - given I lived in London for nearly four years - I don't have a great deal of photos of London in my albums. I'm sure I have plenty of rejected pics tucked away in a shoe box, but those are in storage on the other side of the world right now. The photos which made it into my albums tend to be of people and friends - as we hung out at many a smoke-filled London pub, or holidays and foreign places. I guess London didn't feel foreign enough for me to get snap happy and document it - who knows?

I had a complicated relationship with that city.

I loved it in the beginning and have amazing memories of my first summer there, discovering the nooks and crevices, the history... but once summer came to an end, London slowly lost its shine for me.

Day to day life pulled me down. Earning a meagre wage, trying to make ends meet - and also save for more travel - in a city with a hefty cost of living. The cold. The grey skies. The darkness at 4pm. The grit in the air. The passive aggressive behaviour on the London Tube. The slightly too polite veneers of people. The way that nobody said what they really meant, directly - just in roundabout ways. For an Australian, there is nothing more frustrating.

I read a quote once, of London being one big toilet bowl. For a while, that's how it felt to me.

I functioned, but wasn't happy. I functioned, but didn't feel like I was really living. Although I never saw a doctor, or spoke to anyone about it, I'm pretty sure that I was depressed. Not to the extent that so many people I know have suffered it, but I think it was there, nonetheless. I was just very good at hiding it.

Time and distance eventually helped. Moving south to Brighton, I began to mostly see good in London when I caught the train up, for weekends with friends. I fell in love with the city again, but it was a long distance relationship. I knew I couldn't be there full time.

This is why hearing the Pet Shop Boys this week has brought back such vivid memories of that time in my life. Just hearing those two words: west end... it all comes rushing back. Colours, sounds, smells.

Throughout those years of living in London, no matter what kind of crappy day, week, month I'd been having, an afternoon or evening in the West End was a guaranteed good time.

It was only a twenty-minute Tube ride into the West End, and I loved the anticipation of what might unfold. I loved walking around, soaking up the atmosphere as it changed from one area to the next. Alone, with J, or with friends, there was always something to see or do. 

Window shopping in Covent Garden. Coffee in Soho. Bookshops in Bloomsbury. Jumping on the back of a red double decker bus on Oxford Street, just like the intro to Man About the House. Huge galleries near Trafalgar Square. Stalking squirrels in Hyde Park. Theatre in Covent Garden. Cocktails in Covent Garden. Clubbing and boat restaurants near Embankment. Bright lights and greasy take-away at 3am in Piccadilly Circus. 

Something for everyone.

It's been more than seven years since we left the UK, and the memories have shifted in a way I never imagined they would. When we first left, I believed that was it. Finished. Never going back. 

Over time, though, a rose-tinted glow has formed and I find myself entertaining the idea of going back. Not to live, but to visit. Catch up with friends. I'm curious to see what's new, what has changed - apart from me. I don't know if it'll ever happen, but the fact that I'm even considering it one day is a big turnaround.

Friday, April 1, 2011


She follows her children around the playground, and offers water to them. She inhales the spring air, and calls out sharply as her youngest climbs too high.

The other women listen to her.

They listen to her one-sided conversations. They note the way her words sound different.

The way her words rise, fall and shift. The slightly different syllable stress. Different vowels.

The different phrases. Intonation.

She is from somewhere else, far away.

The other women wonder where she is from, but they do not ask her.

They also have children to follow, and are busy. Engaging, suggesting, empathising with one another. Cooing. Laughing.

Perhaps they feel too shy to ask her, or embarrassed that they don't recognise her accent.

They stop wondering, and resume their chatting.


I used to be amongst those other women.

Not now.

I am the one they observe.