Archive for the ‘‘Straya’ Category

Regular readers of my blog (now numbering onto a second hand!) will have noticed that I haven’t been posting of late – a combination of work, travel, work, homesickness, and well work (with a whack of exhaustion and apathy, mostly caused by work) have conspired against me.

On Sunday morning I am off to Turkey with Alex for a much-needed 10-day break, so in the meantime I am going to ambitiously attempt to jump down off the no-blogging wagon by updating the following areas:

  • Travel (or Cat Empire in Paris and the Durham Open)
  • Work (or the box truss and other pressures)
  • Homesickness (or the £2.50 Twisties and the worst mango ever)
  • Interesting Ideas (or Facebook is for snobs and The Grand Tour)
  • Politics (or voting in the UK and depressing news from home)
  • Visitors (or Alex and Lauryn, and soon Christina, Nic and Alex)
  • Random Stuff (Pommy engineer’s happiness and clothes sent from home)

Clearly the above  gives away most of it – but promise to try and embellish when I post tomorrow and Saturday, while completing mammoth lists of work, packing and socialising!


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The NSW RTA (Roads and Traffic Authority)’s newest ad campaign to tackle speeding, “Speeding. No-one Thinks Big of You“, has been reported by both the BBC (here) and Jezebel (here), my newest favourite source of trashy news. [As an aside, Jezebel’s ‘Snap Judgment’ posts are gold.] I was surprised to learn that the little finger wagging it features was not an international sign of male inadequacy, with both outlets feeling the need to explain it. I guess it is a rather Australian way to tackle issues of speeding, something we’ve been doing for a long time. (If anyone can get proud about being the world leader in traffic ads, it’d be us…)

(American) Jezebel was pretty openly surprised:

“apparently, insulting an Aussie’s manhood is a more effective way to shame him into slowing down than images of death and dismemberment.”

Getting people to slow down is about as hard as getting them to drive less – though perhaps cheaper and easier . The RTA has said elsewhere that shock tactics aren’t working, so hopefully a fresh approach will have some impact.

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Was walking to Uni (for Spanish, Monday nights) this week and saw this headline:

AFL Scandal


Turns out this did not involve an AFL footballer (and former Magpie,) rather it was the bloke who hosts “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” here in the UK, but certainly made me stop in the street. (The fact that Australia’s Chris Tarrant used to play for a man who hosts the same show is just the kind of thing that could make for a cute column.)

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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:




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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Alarmingly, over the last few days I’ve realised how completely changed I am when it comes to obscene prices in London. On arrival in the UK, I stopped converting everything mostly just to retain my sanity and deal with my guilt at such expensive living (if you keep thinking of prices in Aussie dollars, you’d be huddling inside, in the cold and the dark, never leaving the house.)

After all, I had savings (and some Christmas money) to live off until I started earning pounds. And now that I do earn the funny money, I have a comfortable income (without being obscene or anything – I constantly remind myself that lots of Londoners are living on less.)

So how the crap did I find myself hovering with a mouse this morning, almost buying a pair of Havaiana ‘flip flops’ (aka thongs in the old language) on-line that were a ghastly £18?? They’re about that in $AUD!! [Yes Mum, this is your cue to go get me some metallic Havis in a 35/36, and post them…] All this sunshine has made me mildly giddy, but that is nuts. There is no reason for the price hike here – other than the willingness of locals to spend silly amounts of money on things. I spend crazy amounts on the most trivial things – my morning coffee (on the days I get one) is AUD $3.70 (!!) and while our washing machine is still broken, each load of washing I was and dry costs AUD $17 (crikey!)

In the past few weeks I’ve spent a small fortune on some cinema tickets (for the same money in Australia, I’d need help to carry the food I could buy with the change, even at candy-bar prices rather than servo-sneak-ins,) and the equivalent of Australia’s foreign aid budget on three books at Books etc. I don’t earn that much more here than I did back in Sydney, but wow I spend a lot – hardly in the lap of luxury, but scary how quick your base prices adjust… I noticed while in Spain that I’m already one of those powerful-currency-losers who delights in converting things to their minuscule cost in pounds! Aggh! Keen not to loose touch with how much money I make in relative terms, but everyone else is living crazy.

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