Monday, 31 August 2009

These boots were made for walking

Not really sure why Gus took a picture of my calves......though they are the slimmest part of me! He took this pic as we were headed across Darling Harbour to Wynard Station early on Sunday morning, from where we caught a bus. Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write about myself - involving as it does exercise, public transport and being awake on a Sunday before 10am. Still, somehow, he persuaded me to join him on a walk from The Spit Bridge to Manly. The lure of a lunch in Manly may have been the attraction - what he failed to tell me was just how strenuous this walk would be. I knew it was 10k - but to be perfectly honest - I don't really get metric distances. I was part of the generation that started with imperial measurements, and then moved onto the metric system. I know that metric is supposed to be easier - for some of us, it remains a mystery. I can cope with millimetres, centimetres and metres, as I mentally switch them back to inches, feet and yards in my head. Kilometres confuse me. As do kilogrammes. (I still cook using ounces & pounds) And I have no idea what a kilojoule is. Of course, this may explain my current waist size.
10k. It took us 2 1/2 hours. Flat at the start, and flat at the end. But in the middle, we climbed up Sydney National Harbour Park - quite a few steep and uneven steps. The views at the top were worth the breathless panting though.

Heading back downhill was much easier, and the scenery continued to be wonderful. Spring has definitely arrived as the local flowers were starting to bloom.

Arriving in Manly I felt a sense of achievement, so rewarded myself with a chicken burger and a slice of cheescake at one of Gus' chosen coffee emporiums. Equilibrium fully restored, we headed back home using yet more public transport.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The Yanks are coming

Wow - it's been one hell of a week. And for the first time on this blog, I can actually post about my work. Why? Because the secret project that I have been working on since I came here was finally announced to the media on Tuesday. Woolworths has formed a joint venture with Lowes to both buy Danks (a hardware wholesaler) and open 150 new big box home improvement stores in Australia. Lowes are the 2nd biggest home improvement retailer in the world with 1700 stores across the USA. They are based out of Charlotte, North Carolina.

This is huge news and has been all over the media - it caused a big leap in Woolworths share price and a drop in the share price of Wesfarmers, who operate Bunnings - currently the only big box hardware operator. It's been great to be at the centre of all of this - I have been hosting the Americans all week, taking them all over the place to give them a feel for Australia! We've been presenting as well as wining and dining - they were a bit freaked out by the Moreton Bay Bugs on the menu at Cafe Sydney, and I have had to translate when ordering coffee - an Americano with milk becomes a long black with milk.

All I have to do now is find all the product to go in the stores! But hey -that's what I came out here to do. Can't's gonna be fun.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

It's all geek to me

Finally our container of belongings has been delivered. It's been a long 10 weeks living out of just one suitcase. I am so going to throw those trainers away. Fortunately we didn't have any problems with quarantine or customs. Gus' cleaning frenzy prior to our departure certainly paid off. Just not sure now how we get rid of the smell of Jeyes fluid off everything!

The stuff arrived Tuesday. Gus was quite firm with the removal men and got them to unpack most of the boxes. Since arriving in Oz he's become quite bossy. He'd been given advice by our friend Kerry that removal men would try and get away with not unpacking, so he stood his ground. By the time I got home, there wasn't much lef tto do. Except for the technical stuff. That's your responsibility Gus said to me, pointing to a mess of wires and cables next to the tv. An hour later I had the tv, dvd, and foxtel working. Had to set the country code on the tv to Deutschland, but no-one has objected yet...

It's the pc that has defeated me. I got the damn thing working, but could not get it to connect to the wireless router. And I know that there is a good network as our laptop and netbook pick up the signal fine. Took me quite a while before it finally dawned on me that the desktop pc just didn't have a wireless adaptor. Now I am not sure what a wireless adaptor actually is - but it appears I need one. My technical skills only go so far.


Flipper has fun

You've all realised by now that the real Ian never actually made it to Australia, and has been replaced by an impostor who gets up early, goes to footy matches and does exercise. Well Sunday saw this impostor on a 5k walk from Coogee to Maroubra (the next 2 beaches south of Bondi). Now I think a 5k walk on a Sunday morning when you could still be in bed is an amazing achievement. Down under though, it's considered quite pathetic. Here you haven't been on a walk unless it involves either being bitten by a snake or rescued by helicopter. One of my work colleagues is doing the Oxfam 100k walk next month - in 24 hours......Last year he managed 70k before collapsing. Most sensible people would see that as reason enough to have a long lie, here it is seen as a challenge - the Aussies are basically mad.

Anyway, the walk was fun. The forecast was for a hot day - a 28 degree winter day - so Coogee beach was packed. And there were plenty of people on the coastal path - some walking their dogs, some jogging (see more insanity). The path hugged the rocky coastline and gave great views of both the sea and some very expensive real estate.

After an hour we arrived at Maroubra, which is quite the surfers beach. And all Aussie surfers are basically hunks in trunks so I was quite happy. We stopped on the side of the bay to perve at the surfers - and then we saw a pod of dolphins frolicking in the water. Quiet a sight. But the dolphins weren't content with just frolicking. They wanted in on all the surfing action. En masse they swam to the cente of the bay and joined all the surfers.
As the waves broke, they would surf in to the shore, leaping back over the crest of the waves. I was quite excited about this. Gus decided that I needed a cup of tea to calm me down so we found a quaint cafe for a late late breakfast.
Suitably refreshed, we took public transport (again something the genuine Ian would never do) back to Coogee. By now, the place was very busy, and we didn't stay long. Just enough time for a quick photo of gratuitous semi nudity.
This one is for Billy.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

I've never really been into sport. Whether it is playing it or watching it - sport has never held an attraction for me. (Some of the players on the other hand.......Ronaldo, Nadal....phew)

So I am not really sure why I accepted an invitation to an AFL game on Saturday night. The fact that the invite was for a corporate box, and that we would be served drinks and nibbles by our own white coated steward may have had something to do with it. And the fact that the players wear sleeveless vests and quite short shorts.

So we braved public transport and headed over to the Olympic park to the ANZ stadium. It was all very well organised and felt very safe. We wandered around for a bit, absorbing the atmosphere. Loads of families and fans of both teams (Sydney Swans and Geelong Cats) mixing well together. So not what I expected.
And guess what. We had a great time. The other people in the corporate box were good company and we all enjoyed the hospitality. And as the white wine flowed, my understanding and appreciation of Aussie football also increased. AFL is quite a fast flowing game and the last quarter was exciting. The end result was close but sadly the home team lost 92 - 87.
My son Fraser is quite shocked that I have actually been to see a football match - he is the real football fan in the family. Actually he loves sport of all types and plays football, rugby, cricket, tennis, fives - have I forgotten anything Fraz? So maybe I do have sporting genes somewhere in my DNA........

Friday, 14 August 2009

I have a new flatmate. Well he's not really flat - more like a wheel shape. Gus has gone and bought a snail to keep in the fish tank with Frankie the wierd eyed goldfish. The snail is there to keep the tank clean, as Gus is getting fed up having to remove all the green algae. And this is the one thing in the flat that he can't bleach.

I'm not so sure about this. A few years back, when we lived in Newbury, I bought a biorb - basically a spherical fish tank. I had quite a few fish - mainly mollies. Then a certain person decided that the tank lacked greenery and so bought a plant from Ikea. The plant had its own free gift - a small snail. This snail seemed innocent enough - soon it was breeding like a chav / tasmanian / southerner (take your pick based on your country of origin). Quite how it achieved this on its own is a genetic mystery - but anyhow, soon the biorb was over-run. Gus started to remove them - he was taking out about 20 a day. Now I don't like escargots in garlic sauce, so he couldn't get rid of them. Then he started squishing them in situ (Gus has a dark side).......eventually we sought a remedy and bought some fish to eat the snails. Which they did, and then ate all the other fish as well. It was survival of the fishest...sorry fittest. And then, those snail eating fish cannibal monsters themselves died - presumably of indigestion. The whole episode was very traumatic. Who knew fish were such hard work.

So I am worried that we will see a repeat of the whole sorry saga. Gus does not agree with me. Apparently this is a non-breeding snail........hmmmm.....not sure how Gus knows this about the snail........perhaps they are kindred spirits..

And Frankie the wierd eyed goldfish is most put out by this new arrival - he's swimming around menacingly. and believe me, with those bug eyes, he really does look scary.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Clothes maketh the man

I've been having a bit of a clothes crisis. My one suitcase contained mainly workwear - suits, shirts and ties. The ties have proved a total waste of space as open necked shirts are the order of the day at Woolies. Anyway I didn't bring that much casual clothing, thinking it wouldn't be necessary. Trouble is - they keep having casual days at work. Mufti days they are called. And I am lacking in mufti - smart mufti anyway. I do have scruffy mufti.....not exactly what the aspiring executive should be wearing.

So today I wanted to buy some new jeans. You would think that in a major metropolis like Sydney this would be easy....oh no. There are jeans aplenty - but only if you are tall and skinny. Today has really brought home to me just how active the Aussies are, as the shops just don't cater for those of us whose thin days have passed by.

And forget it if you are short.....regular leg lengths of 32" are all you can get. I am a 30" every pair of jeans I tried on had what seemed like several feet of denim trailing behind me. In one store the sales lady gave me a pair of skinny stretch jeans to try on....and I mean trendy urban rock star think Russell brand skinny. I looked like an egg on sticks......and they left nothing to the imagination. The saleslady quite liked me in them......mind you she was no spring chicken and this was probably the closest she'd been to a thrill in years.

We were about to head off to Chinatown where we suspected all the short leg lengths had been sent......when we saw the "General Pants Co" on George St. The salesman here knew his stuff....and directed me to a range of Levis for short, round Brits. Aussie retail redeemed itself. They fitted well.....apart from being too long......But hey, this must be a destination store for all short people as they gave me a voucher for discounted alterations. and the tailor was just across the road in the Dimmocks building. So we headed there and took an old and concerning elevator to the 9th floor. Concerning because it kept stopping and the doors stayed shut.....just when I thought we were in a rereun of some disaster movie, we got to the 9th floor. Wierd. All these shops in what was an office building. The tailor turned out to be a great find - a Vietnamese guy who altered my jeans in just 10 minutes for just $10. And they look like they were always that length - with matching thread on the seams too. Cheaper than flying home to London to shop at The Gap!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Life's a beach

Another day of sunshine. It's weather like this that makes you wonder why any Aussie moves to the UK. And why all the Saafers want to come here.

And all this sunshine means that it is quite pleasant to be outside - something this Brit has to get used to. This morning we went for a walk - around the waterfront at Pyrmont, over the Anzac bridge, around the Blackwattle Bay foreshore via Glebe park and back past the Fishmarket. All in - an energetic 1 hour 50 minute walk..........good grief - what has come over me......?

To reward me for my calorific expenditure, Gus agreed to go out for lunch. Fish and chips at Watson's Bay from the famous Doyles on the Beach. We got there about 12.30 - and the place was packed. I joined the queue to order and collect whilst Gus went to find somewhere to sit. Gus had grilled Kingfish and I went for the SeaBasket - basically a collection of deep fried stuff......calamari, prawns, fish, scallops. Yes I know it's not that healthy but it is the weekend.

Gus got great seats with a fab sea view - and we soon realised why the place was so busy. Every 45 minutes a ferry arrives - and several hundred people got off each time. Took about 15 minutes for them all to disembark. And they got off the ferry and straight into the queue for lunch. That place is a fishy goldmine


There were a few other restaurants there - including the original Doyles which is a bit posher than the takeaway. We'll go there again - maybe get there a bit earlier. Leaving lunch we walked around the area - loads of people sunbathing on the beach - in winter - jealous much all you lot in the UK? We stopped for coffee at a little hidden cafe down by Redcliffe pool - again full of sunbathers and some brave souls swimming in the sea. This part of Sydney is where all the posh people live - including our friends Laura (florida girl) and Nats. It's full of huge houses with great views of the water and the city. Some have the triple - water, Harbour bridge and Opera need several million to own something here. Roll on that lottery win.

It's a gas

We've been meaning to buy gas for ages so that we could finally use the barbecue. I have been a tad confused as the the gas bottle buying process. In the UK you just buy a Calor Gas bottle - probably from B&Q - and take it back when it is empty and swap it for a full one. Here there are 2 systems at work. You can buy empty gas bottles from one shop & get them filled either at that shop or elsewhere or you can buy a full gas bottle on the return when empty principle. I eventually gave up trying to work out which was the better system and went with the simplest. I bought a full gas canister at the local shell garage ($80 for the container and the gas)

Once home I connected the gas to the barbie and hooray - it all worked. No explosions of any kind. I even followed the instructions and checked what kind of flame I had. It had to be a nice soft blue flame with yellow tips. Yellow is so in this season. Then I had to cure the cast iron grillplates. Now I have had several barbecues and have never done this. Which probably explains why all my previous grills have rusted. Again I followed the advice - coat the iron plates with canola oil and heat on low for 30 minutes. Only canola oil should be used on a bbq as it contains no salt and therefore won't cause the bbq to rust. Other oils are bad for bbq's....didn't know that either. Then, once heated (and cooled) the plates were washed in water with a soft brush and then recoated with oil.

Guess what - it all worked. Beautifully non stick grill plates. Cast iron is quite absorbent apparently and the oil soaks into the plates creating a teflon like coating. They must be reoiled after each cleaning. Good job canola is low cholestorol too.

So the first bbq meal was lamb cutlets, lamb sausage, grilled tomatoes, zucchini, asparagus and haloumi cheese.


Barbecuing is always a fine line between salmonella and cremation. I hit that line and the food was good.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Here comes the sun

It's been a glorious day here in Sydney. Can't quite believe this is actually winter. We went over to Bondi beach for lunch and then walked along the beachfront. There really are some great views there

It is a great spot and it was full of people having fun. There are clearly two types of visitor to Bondi, those who have fit bodies and who then surf / swim / run; and those who have fat wallets and who then eat / drink / stare at the people with fit bodies. Gus and I represent one of each type....