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I love good sports writing as much as I love sport. There’s plenty of media attention consumed by football in England, which means plenty of interesting analysis (generally) to absorb, even if some is obscenely detailed/complex (the Guardian, home of crazy graphics.)

Since I have arrived in my current flat, complete with Sky Sports News, I’ve really enjoyed some heated conversations with my English housemates about the strengths and weaknesses of the Premier League.( To avoid hate mail, I’ll not have the argument here, but enough to say the absence of almost all games from free-to-air television, and the obscene price of tickets is something to behold.) I have loved watching some big matches in the pub (we don’t have Sky at home), and am planning a trip to Goodison next season as a major investment. Many locals are far from swayed by my arguments for refrom, but to date no-one can tell me what’s so great about having a wealthy man in another country own your football club with a keen profit motive (other than a deep squad…) – at least for me, the passion exhibited by fans has always seemed at odds with the profit motives of owners.

(Clearly posting twice at the end of a long week has lead to these rediculously long intros. Sorry.)

What I just wanted to include here was a link to this incredible piece by David Conn (an excellent football writer) in Wednesday’s Guardian, about FC United, a football club formed by disgruntled football fans after Glazer’s takeover of Man U in 2005.

The contrast to the Premier league is stark: (a few quotes, because I am pretty sure pasting in the whole thing is not kosher)

“You hear […] bemusement that fans of other clubs have not protested against their takeovers – “Not even Liverpool,” the FC fans all murmur. Here they have moved on, to building their own club according to the principles they argued for when campaigning: supporter-ownership, with members (2,500 of them) voting for the board and policies; ticket prices affordable at £7 for adults, £2 for under-16s, and an agreement with stewards that supporters can stand. The club has established a youth policy which seeks to work with junior clubs who often feel exploited by the way professional clubs’ academies trawl for the best players. FCUM have also made partnerships with social welfare and community organisations, seeking to welcome marginalised groups and introduce football as a good presence in their lives.”

“The Formby match was designated a youth day, with under-16s allowed in free and young people before the game taking part in drama, banner-making and working with the Touch of Class rap collective, which promotes an anti-gun message. Thomas Cullen, a coach at Trafford Athletic Club, brought a group; he said he believed one lad had just been saved from being excluded by his school. “His teacher is here and she saw a different side of him,” he said. “This is great for them. They’re mostly black lads from Hulme and Moss Side but not one has ever been to a match at Old Trafford because they can’t afford it.

Bill Evans, manager of Rochdale Children’s Rights and Advocacy Services, brought 30 children, all in local authority care, saying it was a “positive way for them to feel included“. Maxine Seager of the Tameside Youth Service, a disaffected “Big” United fan herself, came with 70 kids – “Two coach loads,” she said, grinning and rolling her eyes. “They’re loving it, buzzing. They get so much out of this and we work our programmes, on anti-racism and social cohesion, around coming to the game.”

I felt inspired during my snatched lunch break anyway – worth noting that FC United has already developed a few players that are now up in the Championship, the squad is predominately English, and isn’t making a profit for anyone overseas from the contributions of fans. One imagines the changing room has fewer over-priced numptys, but probably some chav-ish WAGs??

[M, clearly this post is meant for you – see the reference to “lentil-eating social worker” in the main article….]

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One of the many differences between UK and Australian society is water – these people have no idea what a water restriction is, or indeed a drought. This became clear at work during the week when I was attempting to clarify an irrigation scope and struggled to comprehend the exact meaning of the phrase “hose pipe ban” – in the end, the only level of restriction last summer, was that people couldn’t uses hoses. At a stretch, certain types of sprinklers were restricted. Trying to explain a multi-level system was a big sell. A good fear monger could clean up here with a bogus consulting role, like the government’s Water Tsar. (Also, in many parts of the country, the phenomenon of a sports match or training session being ‘rained out’ seems foreign – odd, I suppose when they’re the ones getting all the rain, but just some trivia nonetheless. Try telling tales of the ‘wet weather line’ at school/uni if you want some strange looks or giggles.)

The point to all this talk of rain (yes, there is one) is to lead to the highlight of my trip to Switzerland last weekend. (In truth, the highlight was a girls’ weekend and associated sleepovers and gossip, but from a blogging-adventures, this stuff is easier to report.) On Sunday Flick organised for our crew to join a trip to Glarus, where we got to see Landsgemeinde, a uniquely Swiss phenomenon, and in this case a wet one.

As you can see in these photos:

Landsgemeinde1

Landsgemeinde2

Landsgemeinde3

Once we arrived in Glarus we went to the main square where they’d set up benches and platforms to house the voters of the canton, who vote with a pink card that seemed to have some form of agenda, but was primarily a voter registration or proof of entitlement to vote. The outside benches under a sea of umbrellas are all the visitors, outside the fence that keeps the voters in.

Each motion was debated (in Swiss German), often amended to the delight of procedure junkies everywhere, and then eventually votes were cast. It was rather good to be an observer as you could have your umbrella up all the time (they were lowered for voting) and just adjourn to a nearby cafe when the weather got too much.

Bizarrely for such a precise people, the vote was not done on exact numbers, but based on a “clear majority”, and obviously the voting was very public. The absence of the private AEC cardboard booths, and the numbers of tourists and observers was certainly unique. Interestingly to us compulsory voting types, organisers only plan for about 20-30% of eligible voters to attend- but then again, the Swiss are over-franchised, with a constant stream of voting opportunities.

Glarus was a gorgeous corner of Switzerland, and a beautiful spot in spite of the fairly miserable weather. It was actually really nice to see mountains and cliffs after the flatness of London. There was something for the family – a parade in robes, traditional banners from the public buildings, Swiss military guards and a market of food and everyday market crap.

The real process highlight was the final motion of the session when Glarus became only the second Canton to lower the voting age to 16. We followed the detail at intervals when interpreters were available, so got a sense of the speeches (including an old man who kept everyone in the rain to bang on about how young people can’t be trusted with such matters, but ended with an assurance he likes them very much, just thinks they’re useless) and then watched the tussles as the votes were recast a few times to get a clear majority. After several rounds, the motion carried and we joined in with the cheers.

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The media here this week is full of speculation about Tony Blair’s anticipated resignation as British PM in the next week or so – but to be honest, I haven’t got too excited by much of the analysis going around.

Much like Australian State politics, UK politics all just seems a bit peripheral right now – despite paying taxes here in with no recourse to public funds, or representation. I could barely be bothered to form a response to the Leader article in this week’s Economist that asserts the likely handover to Gordon Brown is an unsatisfactory way to hand over power. (Perhaps if they’d cited any evidence that the system England and Australia share was somehow detrimental, or was worse than say a lame duck leader, it could’ve been worth it.)

But I reconnected to the Internet today (am now working on a new construction site with associated crazy levels of work, meaning no routine just now – hence less blogging until this little creature of habit is re-settled) to learn that NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan has claimed in The Bulletin magazine that Deputy Opposition Leader (and IR spokeswoman) Julia Gillard was unfit to lead Australia because she was “deliberately barren“, and then examined the summary of the various responses in the Australian and World press.

Without letting this post disintegrate into cheap shots at either the publication concerned(which asked Heffernan if he stood by the same comments, originally made last year) or Howard’s leadership style (or my personal theories as to where he sources such heinous attack dogs), the whole thing seemed rather tragic and remote.  Clearly the comments are outrageous, but I seem to have developed a different brand of apathy for Australian politics. For some reason, shame and loathing of your own representatives is different at a difference. I enrolled as an Overseas Elector before I left Australia, and am interested in the forthcoming Federal Election, but my grip on what’s going on is clearly slipping.

Although the Senator has since apologised (“I apologise to Julia Gillard and anyone else who was offended by my completely inappropriate remarks”), and Howard has back-pedalled from his earlier dismissals (“I mean people say funny things all the time and the question of whether they apologise for them is a matter for them.”) to forcing an apology (note how the creep gets comments about Gillard onto the record then yet again puts the lackey back in the box with a public demonstration of his party ‘leadership’), I think Gillard has responded perfectly to the inevitable comments about her gender (again – see: kitchen incident):

“The reality is that modern women know all about modern women’s choices. Mr Heffernan, a bit like the Howard Government overall, is a man who is stuck in the past.”Opposition Deputy Leader Julia Gillard

“I’m not overly anxious about all of these things. You don’t want to spend too much of your lifetime worrying about Bill, do you?”Opposition Deputy Leader Julia Gillard

“This sort of 1950s politics has no place in 21st century Australia, it has no place in Australian modern politics and these sort of remarks, frankly, I just find to be positively outlandish.” Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd

[For all my tough talk about how apathetic I am, writing this piece and finding hyperlinks on Google News (searches for ‘Gillard Heffernan barren’, etc) has managed to made me a little angry- and at the same time assured by some of the editorial responses. Readers may be spared my women-still-defined-by-fertility post on a quiet day. Debating colleagues can save time by reflecting on my typical baby factory rants.]

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I have been having some fabulous after-work jaunts lately:

  • The Secret Life of Others with Analeise at the Barbican (an amazing, powerful, beautiful film)
  • A delicious Brazilian BBQ/Birthday Party with Alex, Marina & Emma – so much delicious food and drink
  • Equus with Nathalie at the Gielgud (impressive production, screaming girls watching Harry Potter/Daniel Radcliff get naked a little disconcerting)
  • Half Nelson with Hannah again, at the Barbican (complex, still digesting)
  • Have started my new Spanish class at City University
  • Dinner with Renee and Cisco in Chinatown

And lots more in the coming week or two. All this gallivanting around London has left me weary, so at first I thought I was seeing things when I saw posters for the cinema release of ‘The Upside of Anger’, which opens on May 4th in London. Although the publicity poster wasn’t familiar, I’m sure I’d already seen a similar film years ago – aren’t they flogging it on DVD in ‘Straya? What the? How many Joan Allen/Kevin Costner films does the world need?

I must confess to being useless in remembering actors and actresses and film titles etc, so am a regular user of the Internet Movie Database, IMDb.com.  (As an aside, this is a useful tool when you work with someone who retells movies often, but can also not remember things – ‘you know, the one with the guy from that movie about the two chicks that run away’, etc) I check just to that I’m not dreaming things on my way home on the tube and yes, the film was released in 2005! And, the Australian release date was 12 May 2005! Shouldn’t things come here first? Why the delay? If you read my blog and work in film, or just know about this stuff generally…. please explain.

[Yes, I’ve been on a little blog-holiday, sorry. Thanks to everyone who nagged me back into form!]

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I’ve had my first, shocking, oh-my-I’m-turning-into-them moment over the glorious Easter long weekend. I am turning into a Pommy-sun-loving-tragic, and I love it.

Over the gorgeous Spring weekend (since when was 18-24 so magic? Since it snowed and was dark – my standards have been reset!) I wore sandals, a sundress, a knee length skirt, etc – and had a chat about how nice “getting your legs out” is with a lady in my local.

So how exactly did this happen?

Back on the Thursday before Easter, I was chatting with one of my English flatmates about English food and English supermarkets. I made a list for him of all the foods and produce that are better in England – which is something like this:

  1. Bacon.
  2. Bacon again – the English really know what they’re doing in this department.
  3. Gü and Frü puddings.
  4. Losely yoghurt (refuse to use the word yoghourt yet.)
  5. Ale
  6. Cider

(Actually, this list is an alarming insight into what I’ve eaten in addition to regular healthy fare since I arrived – no idea why I’m loosing weight…. worms?) I’ve always been ready to add my voice loudly to something flippant, but back then I didn’t realise that the English have, rather stealthily, got this summer/sunshine down pat. Us Aussies have had it too good for too long!

Rules for Enjoying Spring & Summer in London, like a real Pom

1. Get your kit off whenever the mercury tops 18°C

    Do not waste a single drop of sunshine – if it is warm, or just warmer than it’s been lately, get amongst it. Take off as much clothing as seems suitable (see also #2 below) and lie, walk, bake, bask, display. Smile more, have an ice cream, wear daggy resort wear – who knows (even with global warming) when you will see the sun again. I have finally seen the genius of this rule – and stopped my silly, better-sun-will-come ways acquired back home. Sundress, Easter Sunday. Hot.

    2. There is no such thing as unsuitable for display – body or clothes.

      The Australian concept of certain parts of skin being too-pale, too-hairy and too-lumpy – gone. Missing this rule sometimes, but it goes well with #1 above, and is fairer. Sunshine democracy. But nothing excuses the lying around during lunchtime in boxer shorts, often with string vests. Nothing. Put it away!

      3. Only ever apply sunscreen once each day

        This Ozone layer is bang-up brilliant. It’s very hard to burn for me now, especially if SPF40+ or SPF50+ sunscreen is applied with brekky. No wonder so many Poms go the lobster look at Bondi – they have no concept of re-application. None required.

        4. Check to see who’s worse off

          Love this – the highlight of the weather on BBC London last night was not the glorious sunshine (relegated to item two by the following) – more importantly, most of Southern England was warmer than Spain, one of the most popular OS destinations for Poms. The references to Scotland/Northern Ireland (thankfully) aren’t quite as cutting or condescending, but generally these people are fiends for relative warmth, much like the relative happiness crew.

          5. Warmer weather makes cold snaps worse

            Lastly, because warmer-than-average days remove normal weather complaining (aka whingeing…), one is forced to save all this up – and go totally berserk during the cold snaps. It doesn’t follow that warm weather before cold is better than cold weather before more cold – even if it should. Thicker doona (also holding out on the word duvet,) pulling out the warmer coat, etc – just as tiring as you’d think!

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            As I lay in bed this morning, waiting for the heating timer to start my day, I had planned in my mind that I’d get a chance to take a photo of the site office I use at the Strand Campus of King’s College London. It’s a nice little microcosm of life on site, ripe for witty insights into my job. That and it would be a little startling to some of my more precious corporate mates.

            Even though I convinced myself that it wouldn’t get any warmer and dragged myself off to site, I never did take that photo. I am feeling pressured to keep posting every work day (knowing I have no motivation to go post in an Internet cafe after I enter the flat) because so many people keep in touch with me this way, and because an engineer I used to work with recently sent me an Excel productivity graph of my postings. If I don’t keep doing this, my gradient will slip.

            So in complete nothing-to-post form, here is something random, this time inspired by this article in the Guardian.

            Funny things I hear people say that I’m trying to work into my crowded vocabulary

            1. numpty – it’s Scotland’s favourite word, and is quickly becoming mine. Love, love, love it. From the above article:

            Scotland’s favourite word, according to a poll by BT Openreach, is numpty. Derived from “numps”, an obsolete word for a stupid person, rather than the more obvious numbnuts or numbskull, the term implies general idiocy, often in my experience accompanied by windbaggery.

            1. lastminute.com – I generally hate the way web2.0 apps and government departments shove words together for such hideous hybrids (despite being entirely guilty with goodtimes), but it is used in the construction industry here to denote something that’s a bit dodgy, something of a rush job, and I like it.
            2. Some of the local slang for various amounts of money – especially the use of pony or macaroni for£25, Pavarotti or Aryton Senna for £10 and sheets referring to notes (cf shrapnel.)
            3. And another local (on site) – marvey, short for marvellous for all good things.

            Each of the above is fairly mundane and commonplace, but having finally (almost) got myself used to everyone abusing “alright?”, I really am enjoying the beauty of a new dialect. New words can be really great fun – hard to use numpty with a straight face!

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            Roadtrip may be over doing things a little – I am, after all, car-less and not at all keen to get back into driving while in London. But I did, on Tuesday morning, go to Croydon for my CSCS Health & Safety Training Supervisors test. It was a lot like my L-plate test as a 16 year old girl – as the sort of person who rubbishes anyone who fails such a simple, touch-screen test, the consequences of failure were unbearable, so I did some study and was fine.

            The highlight/lowlight (depending on your views of corporate travel) of the experience was the trip to Croydon (inside the M25, but waaaay the Deep South for this Zones 1 & 2 Princess,) where I loved this sign: (I have a sneaking suspicion a fellow engineer wanted this one erected…)

            Wider Croydon

            Work-Related Rant

            The whole process of becoming accredited to be a construction industry big cheese over here is just crazy – I am still not really ready to work on a site more than 8 weeks after I first started here. By comparison, a NSW ‘Green Card’ (the Construction Industry’s General Safety Induction certificate, administered by WorkCover) takes around 6 hours to obtain, is an industry wide standard and a new worker can ‘rock up’ at one of many approved training centres with 100 points of ID and get one. Here, in typical UK-process-loving-hell style, I’ve had to fill out forms to work out what forms need completing, been a hideous number of stages (each with a small delay for processing), all before this involved test to get one of the many (over 50) different types of cards. I just pray I have the right one! Lots of people in industry admit that some European workers just buy cards from the pub for £150 – if I looked like a middle-aged man I’d be sorely tempted as it would be worth the sanity break.

            The second part of this rant is just how many people (there have been lots of them involved in processing my application) have spoken to me like I am a complete freak-show. I know women are unusual in the construction industry, and by being a young Australian engineer I am even more exotic, but I guess I just hoped people would be more British (ie reserved) with their surprise.

            I posted earlier about the man in the CSCS test booking centre who asked me if I was booking in for a test ‘for (my) husband?’  – similarly, everyone at the test centre kept checking I really wanted to do a Supervisor’s test, but I just had to let it pass. I then had to wait for a certificate to be printed and call two different call centres to advance my application (ever closer to the elusive card!) where both people asked me if I really was an engineer like it was the most incredulous notion.

            Having once (rather infamously in my old workplace) taken my dry-cleaners through the HREOC process, am not going to let a the testing centre (Thomson Prometric), subcontracted to the CITB, get away with it. I don’t really enjoying being a gender warrior (it’s fun in debating land when it involves mere rhetoric, but less fun when you actually have to use the tools available to change people and systems) but think these people need some angry young woman reform.

            Phew. Feel soo much better!

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