Thursday, November 29, 2012


It's 39 degrees outside at the moment. That's Celsius, not Fahrenheit.

You could fry eggs on the footpath.

I've been in blissfully cool air conditioning for most of the day, only having a break when I pooped out to have lunch with a friend.

Tonight I plan to hole myself up in the local cinema to escape the heat and use somebody else's air conditioning.

But I have a problem.

I have an ear worm I'd like to get rid of before I go to the cinema.

It's strange.

We have a transport system here which is elitist and ineffective.
We have a public transport ticketing system which makes travelling if you're a visitor dreadfully hard - not the mention that the ineffective ticketing system that cost a billion dollars to make - and it still doesn't work that well. A billion dollars - like what!

The public transport company - which is privatised, spent a small amount of money on an advertising campaign to try and make people take a bit more care around railway platforms and level crossings - when it comes to advertising dollars, small bikkies.

This is the song that I have stuck in my head.

" Dumb Ways to Die" is the song in my head.

I feel embarrassed that I'm singing a song produced by Metro Trains.

But when I first saw this yesterday it had me tittering for an hour.

Off to the gym...

"... Use your private parts as pirhana baite..."

p.s. I love the corn in the bit about the unrefrigerated pie... this is gold stuff.
p.p.s  Just a pity they can't be as successful making the trains run on time or developing our woeful public transport systems in many suburbs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The A-Z of Travel

This post comes to you via the wit and wisdom of the Plastic Mancunian, fellow blogger and traveller.

Travelling is one of my favourite things to do. I'm at my happiest when I'm on some mode of transport going to some destination, whether that be on a boat in Port Phillip Bay fishing for snapper or on some grand journey across Europe.

Here is my list.

A: Age you made your first international trip

My first international trip was when I was seventeen. My family went to New Zealand for a holiday – my grandmother left us some money when she died, so we took a coach tour around both islands in the summer before I started university. I’m not sure if that is an international trip, as New Zealand and Australia are very similar.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where

I’m very partial to Bintang. Being reticent to drink the water in Bali, a lot of Bintang got  imbibed when I was on holiday in Bali. Bogan, yes, but it’s not bad beer. Rather partial to Leffe as well, last imbibed at a pub in Covent Garden. Three pints and I had to be poured into a cab home.

C: Cuisine (Favourite)

I could say far too many to mention, but I’m very, very fold of Spanish food. Love tapas. Love cured meats. Bliss is patatas bravas, Jambon Serrano and these lovely cheeses. Joy.

Malaysian food comes a close second. Satays and Beef Rendang make life worth living.

D: Destinations. Favourite. Least Favourite. Why?

Favourite destination to date has to be Spain. I love travelling, but Spain blew me away when I visited two years ago.
The place I’ve dislike the most since travelling would have to be the city of Naples. Stepped off the train and felt I was on the set of some gangster movie. I don’t scare easily, but there was an air in Naples that made me want to get on the first train out of there. I lasted a day – and went to Capri which was much more civilised.

E: Event you experienced that made you say, ‘Wow'

Many years ago, just as I was about to leave London, I made my way to Westminster Abbey for a final look around. It’s a special place for me on a personal level. I met somebody very special there for the first time being one of those memories that I treasure.

Anyway, back in the day, you could get up to the Tomb of Edward the Confessor – one of the most sacred sites in Britain, but in recent times, they had closed it off as all of the foot traffic was damaging he monument. I was a little disappointed, at this and started talking to one of the vergers.
After a few minutes he told me to come with him.

He granted me access to the tomb, the Stone of Scone and the Coronation Chair, all by myself, for as long as I wanted to stay.

That was one of my ‘WOW’ moments.

F: Favourite mode of transportation

I love being on boats. Whether it be on a ferry in Sydney Harbour or a ferry around the Greek Island or on a punt on the River Cam in Cambridge, I love being on water and in boats, big or small. I find them very relaxing – and to date I’ve not got sea sick.

G: Greatest feeling while travelling

The freedom of being somewhere different. And not knowing where you are. It’s all one big adventure.

H: Hottest place I’ve travelled to

I live in Australia – the South Australian outback is up there. Rome and Athens in August were pretty unbearable too – the former made worse as I had a raging case of Bronchitis.

Bali gets a nod for the raging humidity. Yuk. Give me a Bintang, NOW!

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where

Nothing beats good American service, though I did have to take issue with the Holiday Inn in Downtown New York.

I arrived after 24 hour flight on which I was recovering from food poisoning.
All I wanted to do was shower and sleep.
I got to my room, there was a knock at the door.
Did I need anything?
No. Thank you.
Ten minutes later, I was sitting on the loo.
Another knock at the door.
I didn’t answer and somebody tried to come in – I yelled at them to get the hell out.
Delivering a blanket.
Thank you, but I would be fine.
I was about to step into the shower when another knock on the door came.
They were politely told to go the hell away and I called down to reception to have a do not disturb for at least ten hours placed on my room.
I’m not the nicest person with jetlag and receding food poisoning.

Great service, but overkill.

J: Journey that took you the longest

That 24 hours from Singapore to New York via Europe felt like it went on forever. I’ve done a couple of 30 hour stints from Europe to Australia and back, but that one was not nice at all.

K: Keepsake from your travels

I have got quite a few over the years. A green resin Buddha from Thailand and an iron Sarasvati from Bali sit on my bookshelf – but I have a large panda bear that I found when I was on holiday in York that is wearing a scarf that somebody gave me when I was living in Mykonos. There are all sorts of small treasures I’ve got about the place.

L: Let down sight. Why and where?

Singapore. It’s not so much a sight as a place. It’s too clean, too orderly – the leaves wouldn’t fall from the trees unless there was a government degree. Sterile and lacking soul – let me go across the bridge to Jahor Bahru, Malaysia any day.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel

Sitting in a wet market in Malacca, Malaysia with my university friend, Pauline, eating chilli infused noodles among the skinny cats and the strange smells. It was the first time I equated travel with life.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in

This is a toss up between the Shangri-La and the Westin in Sydney. Both are five-star hotels. The Shangri-La gets points for upgrading me to a harbour view room. The Westin wins hands down for the bathroom and the bath, which is absolutely magnificent.

O: Obsession. What are you obsessed with taking pictures of while travelling?

I’m a keen but not that accomplished photographer – but I love taking photo of what is in doorways and under arches. I make a point of it. Buildings and scenery come a close second.

P: Passport stamps. How many and from where?

My passport expired in January so I need a new one, but this last one has stamps from the following countries (not so much visa as I’ve never had to apply for one)

The UK
The United States
The Netherlands
New Zealand.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where.

My aunt and uncle took me to Intercourse and Blue Balls, Pennsylvania – both Amish towns. I was tittering about that for a week.

Quirkiest attraction – I can name a few. The Southend-on-Sea foreshore playing mini-golf, The Big Koala, Dadswell Bridge, The Grampians, Victoria, Salem, Massachusetts is a very, very strange place.

Oh, now I remember. The Mutter Museum, Philadelphia. A must go if your favourite programme on television is “Embarrasing Bodies” – like me.

R: Recommended sight, event, or experience

Here are a few that have left me speechless in a good way.

Toledo Cathedral, Toledo, Spain
The Alhambra, Grenada, Spain – one of the most beautiful places in the world
The Alcazar, Seville, Spain
Riding elephants in Thailand, Lampang Elephant sanctuary (even better as I did this on Christmas Day)
The woods just outside of Boston in Autumn. Stunning.
Westminster Abbey, London – just to see who is buried there
Elia Beach, Mykonos – for the joy of seeing naked men frolic like lambs
The Pantheon, Rome – actually, anywhere in Rome – Rome is great.
Utrecht, The Netherlands – great place, a smaller, friendlier, gorgeous city that I loved more than Amsterdam 
Puffing Billy, the Dandenongs, Melbourne
Port Arthur, Tasmania

S: Splurge. Something you have no problem forking over for while travelling.

In no order:

Information books on great buildings - more often than not, cathedrals
Tea towels for mum
A decent hotel for the first night I’m in a new city on my own

T: Touristy thing you’ve done

Salem, Massachusetts – the witchy thing was most uncomfortable for me
Taken a ride on Popeye on the Torrens ‘River’ in Adelaide
Eaten a cheese steak on the prodding of my 13-year-old cousin in Philadelphia
Universal Studios, Los Angeles
Had a Turkish bath in a Hamman in Granada
Puffing Billy in the Dandenongs is the best
The Guinness and Jamesons’ factories in Ireland
Kissed the Blarney Stone just outside of Cork
Been for an elephant ride in Thailand

And of course – I’ve been to Bali.

U: Unforgettable travel memory

I have so many of them. I’m lucky and most of them revolve around dinner and a bottle of wine with friends.

If I was to give you one memory, one of my absolute favourites was travelling to the Gold Coast with my friends Alice and Dougal to see the Pixies play at the V-Festival. That was special.

V: Visas. How many of them and for where.

I’ve got most of mine when I rocked up at the airport. I have a nice printed one in my old passport from Indonesia – that is the most official one I have in there.

W: Wine, best glass while travelling and where.

Ah, this was an Australian bottle, a Nicholson River Chardonnay, imbibed with friends in a 400-year-old cottage, on the banks of the River Wye, in front of the open just outside of Woking, Surrey.

RIP, Dickie.
X: eXcellent view and from where

As much as I don’t really like the place, the view of the caldera in Santorini is magnificent.

Y: Years spent travelling

Well, I’m 44 now so that makes it - argh! 25 years! And here’s to at least 25 more.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where

Sitting with my Aunt in Philadelphia watching her watch baseball is a pretty cool thing. I have no idea what she was talking about. I was only allowed to talk in the advertisements. It’s a nonsensical game, but my aunt, a mild-mannered, devoutly Christian, salt of the earth type of woman turns into a bit of a banshee when the Phillies play.

At least I think it was the Phillies… and I think we were watching baseball…

And finally …

Travelling may be the reason I don't have a house with a small mortgage, but I would not exchange my memories or experiences for anything. Travel is one of the most enriching, powerful and life-affirming things you can do for yourself. It's an education and an experience all rolled into one.  Long may I be able to continue to go to new and unfamiliar places.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Anti-Advent List

I looked at the calendar today and nearly had a fit.

What do you mean that Christmas is only a month away?  Like how the hell did that happen?

Okay, Christmas and I don't have a  great relationship. Christmas has a traditional meaning for me of things like stress, disappointment and loneliness. Stressing about Christmas used to be a debilitated affair that took over the month of July. Since I've decided that going away or spending Christmas with friends works a lot better for me, I've been reigning in morose feelings about this time of year - but I still have times of gentle freak outs which send me diving for a day.

I had a Christmas freak out in the middle of this week - and again last night. Nothing major. I didn't find myself a sobbing, mess - more a gentle melancholy took over me. Adding to this the fact that I couldn't go to the gym last week.

The gym has become my way of dealing with the excess emotions. A couple of friends who got told told of my glumness said for me to try and rationalise out these feelings - but I know from experience that this is nowhere near as effective as out-racing myself in spin class, pumping weights, going for a run or bashing the crap out of a personal trainer (boxing is particularly effective) Rather than think things out, I'd rather get into my body and feel things and resolve it that way.

Thankfully, the back injury is nearly fixed. I'm still not going do run or do any impact stuff for another week, but I managed an upper body session with Pinochet on Saturday and Body Pump today with reduced weights. It felt strange doing a 17.5 kg squat track and 10 kgs for the back (normally 25-27.5 and 15-17 kgs) but it did feel great to be moving again - even if the body is objecting, complaining with all sorts of sore muscles.

Regardless, it's a month from Christmas. There are things to do.

Part of me is glad that I get out of Christmas in Adelaide. I'm working up until Christmas Eve  - getting back to Adelaide would be painful to say the least.

Talking of work, I'm in a bit of a state of flux at the moment. I'm hopefully finding out if they're extending my contract at the end of next week. I'm hoping that I get extended for another three months, taking me over the January dry period and letting me finish the job that I started. Here's hoping.

So I'm working on my anti-Advent calendar. Things to do by the end of the years. Things that will make me believe that I'm getting some stuff done rather than feel like I'm just floating. Things to keep me occupied while I try and forget that this Christmas thing is going on around me.

So here we go, an Anti-Advent list.

1) Finally replace that passport. It only expired eleven months ago.
2) Obtain a new lap top - this is depended on the job situation. If I keep my contract I'll go shopping for a new laptop soon. If not, I'll hang out til I know what is going in with work - it's a months rent or something I'd like, but don't NEED - well not just yet anyway. The day is approaching.
3) Start running again - again, I have to give it a week. Then start anew. I miss running.
4) Make cassatas for Christmas and Boxing Days. Christmas this year will be spent with Blarney, Barney, the boys, the Maow Maow and a mix of other Xmas orphans. I will blog about the cassata later, but it is one of the few things that I make better than my mum.
5) For days that I'm not going on, stick to no more than 1500 calories a day.
6) Get the flat tidy. Really clean and tidy.
7) The the Adelaide 'presents' off in the mail by 10 December. I say presents in inverted commas as my sister has requested gift vouchers for everybody. Yes, it makes it easier, but it takes the fun out of buying presents.
8) Embark on a 40 days of fitness. Get exercising daily from here on in.
9) Under no circumstances are chips, chocolate or donuts to pass my lips until Xmas day. Period. These things have slipped into my diet lately - no more.
10) Try and get to a movie a week. Find the time to go to a movie a week more importantly.
11) Try to not screw up my nose when Christmas gets mentioned. Just try. Doesn't mean I will suceed.
12) Clean up my current hard drive.
13) Look to writing 500 words that aren't work or blog.
14) Have a dream I can take to dream group sometime in the next three weeks. Viv is on my case.
15) Save money - lots of money.
16) Have the car detailed again - I did this a few months ago and it feels good to have a clean car inside and out. It got a bath today to get the bird poo off it, but I reckon taking it to a place where it gets washed and polished every six months is a good thing.
17) Once I know what is going on with my contract, plan a real holiday. This will probably involve obtaining a new passport and spending money, but it need to be done.
18) Find out what my coffee table and the right hand side of my couch looks like.
19) Consider re-visiting internet dating. I'm just saying consider it. Doesn't mean I'm going to do it, but this between drinks status is getting wearing.
20) Try and get six hours sleep a night. I have Mrs Squeaky Puss, shoe fetishest and clandestine snorer staying with me. She's good for booting me off my pillow in the middle of the night. She is also good at attempting to rape my shoes. Strange animal. She goes home tomorrow night.
21) Write down everything I eat and the exercise I do  - time to get back to accountability stage.
22) See if I can get something published.
23) Ignore Lachlan. Easier said than done.
24) See, if by the end of the year I can pull a 30 kg squat track, a five minute plank and ten full push ups. My plank is around 2.5 minutes, when my back is good the squat track sits at 257.5 kgs and I've got to get over this push up phobia.
25) Get as much refined sugar out of my life as possible. It's not needed.

I think that gives me enough to think about over the next month.

Wish me luck.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Postural Retraining

I am in possession of an injury which I am not happy about in the slightest.

It is a bedroom injury. Yes. I was injured in a bedroom. That constitutes a bedroom injury - doesn't it?

On Saturday night I was round at Blarney's giving her a hand with Chance and Lance as Barney had something on. Over the evening, in between intermittent cuddles with the Maow Maow, I helped Blarney give the boys a bath, read them a book and give them a bottle in preparation for bed. I'm a nice friend like that. The lads are my proxy nephews and I enjoy pitching in. Bath time is always fun - and because I can wash hair without getting soap in their eyes, I'm quite popular. I have memories as a child of having preferred people to bathe me. Nanny was better than Granny - Granny always got soap in my eyes when she washed my hair.

After bath and book and milk and cuddles, we took them upstairs and got them into their sleeping bags.

Chance was placed into his cot without issues.

Then it was Lance's turn. Blarney asked me to put Lance in his cot - her own back is not in a great state it's something a strong and able person should be able to do without issue - I've done this countless times. Pick up child. Place in cot. Simple.


I felt something give around my ilio-sacral region as I lifted Lance off the ground. Somehow I managed to get himup and over the railing into bed where Blarney quietened him for sleep.

And I flopped over into a ball, bending forward knowing immediately that I was in for a few days of discomfort. Stretching tentatively, I could feel the damage. Muscle strain. Lower back / sacral / gluteal area. Joy of joys.

There goes the training routine for the week.

Running dowstairs I found an ice pack in the freezer and strapped it to my back, lying on the couch for about half an hour wondering if I was going to get home okay. Maow Maow climbed on top of me in sympathy as Blarney fetched me a cup of tea.

Out done by a two-year-old!

All of this because of a 17 kilogram two-year-old - sheesh. I normally do a 27.5 kg squat track in pump. Pinochet regularly has me dead lifting and squating with 40 kilograms to hand. Okay, the two-year-old is the size and shape of a small bar fridge. Chance and Lance are like twin baby rhinos in size and demeanor, but bathed, dressed in clean pyjamas and with a bottle in hand they're like the most wonderful things in the world and you can forgive them pretty much anything. And they smell good. I never knew that two-year-olds could smell good - but they do when they're bathed. The rest of the time they're just feral and they don't smell good at all.

After a rest, tentatively I stood up. Sure, there was a bit of damage, but I was up, walking, bending and moving. I wasn't in agony - I'll describe it as moderate discomfort. Could have been far worse.

Driving home wasn't as fraught as putting on the seatbelt. Arriving home, I took the stairs slowly, got inside and lay down on the floor, knees in the air, head on a stack of books.

Like most things in my life, there is a drill. I have a routine when I have a cold, when insomnia calls and when I look after cats. A drill for when my heart gets broken and for when visitors come to stay.

There is a practiced, but thankfully rarely used protocol for when I munt out my back. Having some back pain twenty years ago I went for Alexander Technique classes. Some of the best money I've ever spent. The protocol has been used four times to date. Told you I was lucky.

For those who've never heard of it, Wikipedia's explanation of Alexander Technique says:

"The Alexander technique aims to teach people how to stand, hold themselves and move differently in order to eliminate unnecessary tension in their bodies. It is an educational process, not a relaxation technique or form of exercise. The Alexander technique has been shown to be helpful for people suffering from tension headaches, back pain, frozen shoulders, housemaid's knee, flat feet, tennis elbow, minor digestive problems, asthma, difficulties sleeping, clumsiness, irritability and lethargy. Practictioners say such problems are often caused by people repeatedly mis-using their bodies over a long period of time, for example by standing or sitting with their weight unevenly distributed, holding their heads incorrectly, or walking or running inefficiently. The purpose of the Alexander technique is to help people unlearn bad physical habits and return to a balanced state of rest and poise in which the body is well-aligned."

The head on books, knees in the air on the floor exercise is something I do weekly to keep me in a good spot. When my back misbehaves, I'll do this a few times a day. It really helps.

Watching my body over this time has been funny. I have Rosalie, my old Alexander Technique teacher's voice in my head. Shoulder blades down, hips forward, head like a ping pong ball on a string on your neck. Small adjustments bring relief from the aches and pains.

So does nurofen.

So does making sure I don't stay in one position for too long and strapping a hot water bottle to my back inbetween times.

I'm also thankful for all the exercise I do, as it's making the recovery far more easy. Fit, strong muscles repair more quickly.

Yesterday, I called my massage therapist to get an appointment, the last phase in helping the back along.

"Peter, I need to see you."
"You can't stay away from me."
"I'm injured, you daft git."
"What have you done this time? Marathon running, hauling Mini's around a car park? Belting up your trainer?"
"Bedroom injury."
"Who's the lucky man?"
"Don't give me lip. I was placing my friend's two-year-old son in his cot."
"Yep, that will do it."
"So when can I see you?"
"Tomorrow."  He named a time.
"Thanks. You get to play with my arse for half an hour. Aren't you lucky?"
"I'm looking forward to it already."
"Aren't I supposed to say that?"
"You're the one paying me... remember that."

I don't need to tell you that Peter's been my massage therapist for many years and we have the same sense of humour.

Two days on I'm seeing that this is all a minor glitch. I walked home from work last night and walked in today - walking feels good. As long as I keep moving, I'm fine. I'm so grateful I'm strong, fit and healthy and have a good knowledge of first aid fundamentals.

Okay, I'm not in the gym, where I would like to be - but I'm mobile and the ache is lessening every day.

And that will teach me to go anywhere near two-year-olds again.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunshine Awards

My friend Jackie has nominated me for a Sunshine Award - an honour indeed, especially with the crap that I churn out - to think that people read it is an honour enough.

It appears that the Sunshine award was given because I bring a bit of sunshine to her day - again, unsure how this happens, but still. It's an honour.

So, I've been asked to answer eight questions and ask some of my favourite bloggers to answer the questions as well. So, here goes the questions:

1. What is your favorite Christmas/Holiday movie?

I need to give three - as I hate Christmas with a passion, strangely, I rather enjoy Christmas films.

Of the ones I can watch again an again, Love Actually, It's a Wonderful Life and Die Hard (the first and the best Die Hard. How can you not enjoy a Christmas movie when Alan Rickman is in it?

2. What is your favorite flower?
Hands down, roses.

3. What is your favorite (non-alcoholic) beverage?
Again, does it have to be one? I can't do without coffee or Bickfords Lime Juice Cordial.

4. What is your passion?

Writing - I've wanted to be a writer since I was a small child. One day.

5. What is your favorite time of year?

Late Autumn when the leaves are falling.

6. What is your favorite time of the day?

When I make it, really early morning just as the sun has come up and the day is all new. What wonderful possibilities.

7. What is your favorite physical activity? 

What is an endorphin junkie's favorite exercise - if I had to just have one exercise I could do. Oh come on....  Can't I like nominate a favorite sweaty and non-sweaty exercise.

I can walk all day.
I love shunting weights around.
I love the buzz from spin class

But if I could do anything, everyday, without consequences - swimming. Love being in the water. Just don't do it enough.

8. What is your favorite vacation?
Again, you're asking a travel nut this question. Whether it be mooching around the ancient cities of Europe or lying by a pool in Thailand - I think my wandering solo adventures in Europe are my favorite way to spend my time off.

And as for the bloggers I nominate:

The Plastic Mancunian  -
Kath Lockett -
Elisabeth -
Elephant's Child -
Bron -
River -
Magical M

Still honoured as I know I churn out crap.

Posh Dinner Heaven

Estelle Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The call came in a few weeks ago. Millie's husband was heading abroad - it was time for another degustation dinner. I was given a list, sent out a few emails and after a bit of banter, Millie and I decided on The Estelle Bar and Kitchen in Northcote.

Northcote? Well, it is a bit out of both of our radars. See, being from Adelaide, I know what's what in a 20 minute radius  - anything else is on a need to know basis. Northcote, in the 12 years I've been here, has always been out of my radar. Stupidly, the suburb is ten minutes away by car when Hoddle Street is flowing, is just another part of Melbourne I had no idea about. Both Millie and I were pleasantly surprised - being Eastern Suburbers this inner Northern suburb was well cool. It needs to be investigated further.

Taking our seat at the bar, where we were set for the night, we were wondering what we were in for. Busy, but not so busy that we couldn't hear ourselves thinks, casually decorated, but one up from Formica chic, The Estelle is welcoming, but slightly edgy. The well stocked bar and hip coffee machine let you know that these guys know what they are doing.

Oh - they know what they're doing.

Quickly, we settled on the seven course degustation menu. There was a five and nine course on offer - the seven seemed about right. A glass of Louis Roederer Premier Brut was ordered. Damn, Millie - she introduced me to French Champagne a while ago - and I'm at loathe to go back to Australian sparkling. With the glass of poo, an assortment of amuse bouche were served. Pork crackling with a tangy mousse, melon in wraps and baked Jerusalem artichokes.

The staff here are great. Friendly without being cloying, knowledgeable without being know it alls. They took note of our dietary requirements. Millie doesn't eat fish or seafood. This was noted. I wanted to feel special too, so I told the waiter that I didn't like banana. For some reason, that made him laugh. According to Millie it was something to do with the way my nose wrinkles when I say it.

No banana on the menu. Cool.

First course was presented. A baked eggplant (aubergine) with a soy dressing, daikon radish and toasted sesame with a lime mayonnaise. For something so simple, it set a very high bar for the rest of the meal. The thing that The Estelle does best of all is textures - and this course set the standard. Creamy eggplant, tangy mayo, crunchy sesame seeds and the crisp daikon. A great start.

Millie and looked at each other  - there was something in the reviews. This was quality.

We had a different second course. Being a non-pesce, Millie was given goat's cheese, rolled in lavosh ash with beetroot and orange. She said it was one of her favourite dishes of the night.

For me, I was given a bowl of gazpacho with smoked salmon with a horseradish foam.

Now, I'm not really one for molecular gastronomy. Generally, I think foam is a bit wanky. Not this one. The essence of horseradish was the perfect foil for chunky gazpacho and superfresh salmon. I was happy - an very impressed that finally I'd got what this foam was all about. It's a bit like me and Picasso. Takes a bit to get my head around.

As our plates were cleared, we were asked if we had any objections to steak tartare. It appears some people can't fathom raw steak. Millie and I aren't those people. Served with a quail egg, rustic potato chips and a garlic and sprout puree (the thing that looks like mashed kermit in the beaker) the wagyu tartare was stunning. Subtle and melt in your mouth. How can people not like steak tartare? Certainly wouldn't prepare it myself, but on one of these nights, it's a definite. The green sauce in the beaker was wonderful too - incredibly subtle, setting of the wagyu tartare perfectly.

By this time, our poo had been drained and a glass of wine was required. The wonderful Spanish sommelier suggested a Henty Farm Chardonnay, of which we were both given a glass that seemed to be bucket sized (allegedly a carafe servicing) Light, fruity and fresh.

The  next course was the vegetable course. Celeriac, currants and turmeric. Perfected prepared and roasted. The celeriac creamy with the currants and bespoke vegetables providing some interest.

At this halfway point, Millie and I were wondering how soon we could back here - Millie wanting to bring her husband back and me wondering if I could talk my book group into going here for Xmas lunch - though we'd have to book now for next year. It can be a bit hard to get into. We booked for this three weeks ago for a Tuesday night - and were still seated at the bar, not that it was an uncomfortable experience at all.

The next course was my favourite - and Millie's 'meh' course.

Millie was giving a plate of duck three ways - duck sausage, croquettes and something else. She said it was nice, but not up there with the rest of the dishes.

I was given a bowl of crab mornay - sweet blue and swimmer crabs in a mornay sauce with a crumb topping and infused with curry oil. It was eye -ollingly good. I sat and savoured every quarter mouthful - for this was a dish to be savoured. From my reaction, Millie made comment that she wished she ate fish. For me, this was one of the dishes of the evening.

What followed was another favourite our ours. Corned beef, roast beef with a burnt carrot puree. From the description you'd think, 'Hmm, maybe not so much.' I have memories of corned beef as a child - an how my dad used to cook it and stink out the house. This was nothing like that. With the slice of simply roasted beer and the sweet, caramelised carrots - glorious.

After the success of the savoury dishes, we could only wonder at the glory of the desserts.

We weren't disappointed.

The thing I love most about degustation dinners is you get to eat like a hobbit - first entree, second entree, first main, second main, afters, third main, then first dessert. You have to love this way of eating. The great thing about The Estelle's degustation is that the courses are sized just right. You don't walk away stuffed to the gills, but you are happily sated. When you get to first desserts, you're looking forward to it - there is enough room.

For first desserts a mix of sour cream ice cream, pumpkin, salted caramel and Chinese five spice and some other lovely bits for good measure. I loved this dish with a passion. Another plate I wished would not finish. Pure joy on a plate.

Another comment about the degustation here, the courses are perfectly paced. You're not sitting around waiting forever, nor are you being hurried along.

The last proper course was what was listed as Albert's Chocolate Garden. It was described to us as chocolate dirt with foliage. A dark, smoked chocolate soil with a ganache below and edible flowers. I'm not a chocolate lover - it's normally the last thing I will go for on a menu. I enjoyed this, the unexpected smokiness, the textures - for Millie, it was a bit too smoky.

We asked for the bill and were presented with the following - not so much an amuse buche, but a goodbye present. A berry coulis with musk foam and dehydrated raspberries - it reminded me of musk sticks and redskins. Bliss.

Surprisingly, with the two glasses of wine and seven courses, we were stunned. $125 a head.

This is a place I'd go back to in a heartbeat - even if it does mean a trip up Hoddle Street. Friendly, trendy, knowledgeable staff, stunning food - not too stunning that you don't know what to do with, but surprising enough that you're left thinking about it for a few days. Childhood memories of corned beef, musk sticks, molasses, and thoughts of why, and how somebody would think of putting sour cream, pumpkin and Chinese five spice together.

Thoughtful, though-provoking, texture savvy food.

Can't recommend The Estelle highly enough.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Furry House Demons

In my official function as the Mad Cat Lady of Richmond, I'm known to take in friend's cats while they go on holiday. I rather like having them around the place. It's nice having other people's cats on hand. You don't have food, vet or registration costs and you get a house trained animal to keep you company for a while. I rather like this set up.

My regular visitors include the eponymous Maow Maow - love of my life. Ms Tia Stinkybreath comes and stays every now and then when Sam goes away. Mrs Squeaky Puss is due back in a few week's time when Kitt goes away for the weekend. These regular visitors all end up sleeping on my bed with me after a day or so.

And before you say, "Get your own cat." I'll say it once again. I'll get a cat when I get a husband. Other than the commitment issues that dream group berate me for on regular occasions, I go away a lot and I'm not home much and I think cats should have a back yard when they live with you long term, not just a litter box under a table. Besides, for the moment, I'm enjoying taking in cats - and having them stay for a little while before I give them back. I appreciate the variety.

I've got two furry house demons that arrived this morning. Goblin and Whiskers. They belong to Sydney, a mate from book group who's away on business this week.

Unlike the Maow Maow, Mrs Tia Stinkybreath and Mrs Squeaky Puss, I hadn't met these two before. When the former come for a visit, they normally case the joint and are asleep on the sofa within ten minutes.

These two - these two - who I'm yet to rename (all cats who come to stay get sort of renamed) have been here about 12 hours - and they are yet to remove themselves from under the couch.

Not that this is troubling me - Sydney said that they were ace at hiding and in the last few hours they have  started to stick a paw out  into the light. There is food, water and their poo box ready for them. I'm sure that after a while they will come out and be a bit friendlier.

But for the moment, I'm sitting here trying not to think about the fact that it's Hell Week coming up. This week I have the monthly Elks Meeting, the Elks Property Association Meeting (for which I'm sitting here getting the spreadsheets ready for the meeting. Wednesday is Dream Group. Thursday I'm out with Millie and Sam for a posh dinner and Friday I'll be ready to fall into a big heap.

This also means that I have to get to the gym before work. Fun. Lots of Pedro on the bike. Fun.

Talking of Pedro - as the cats were dropped off early, I didn't make it to my constitutional Sunday morning Pump class - just a few minutes too late. Instead of going for a run or just forgoing the gym altogether, I went to the Body Combat class instead.

Pedro was taking it.

Having him jump around, punching the air in front up in front of the class - laughing at some of us occasionally in a good humoured way (I get snickered at for my non-existent  roundhouse kick)

Having Pedro bounce around like Tigger for your viewing pleasure - its enough to put a smile on your face for the rest of the day.

Right, off to bed - lets see how much trouble these furry house demons can get into tonight.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Sinead O'Connor Type Day

I wake.

I think about going to the gym.

I get up, dress for the gym, make a coffee and venture out into the street, gym bag in tow knowing that I'm late for the 9 am spin class.

I walk to the post office instead, picking up a parcel that could not be placed in the letterbox.

I walk to the gym, which is located at the nearest shopping centre.

Instead of going to the gym for some semblance of exercise, I go to the supermarket, pick up some eggs, smoked salmon, wholemeal English muffins and chilli jam.

This is called breakfast. Which I will cook in a few minutes when I walk home.

Over the tannoy, Sinead O'Connor is playing. Nothing Compares 2U. The Prince cover that got as much airplay as Coldplay, James Blunt and Adele used to get back in the 80s.

Since when do they play Sinead O'Connor over the tannoy at the shopping centre?

See, I have Sinead O'Connor days. And today is one of them. Today is not over - and it will remain for a bit.

Posting on facebook that it was a Sinead O'Connor type of day two friends commented.

The first, "What, you've shaved your head?"

Well, I haven't. I really hate the thought of losing my hair - my naked scalp would look like it has been attacked with barbed wire, criss-crossed with scars where I've had a multitude of cysts removed. I'd look like Travis Bickle's butch sister if I shaved my head.

The second, "You're denouncing the pope? Getting married and divorced in less than a month? Embracing your mental illness?"

Well, I never embraced the Pope, I've never been married and as for embracing my mental illness, I manage my low grade depression pretty well, but no - it's not that.

Well, it probably is a bit of the last. We're all a bit nuts  - on these days - my Sinead O'Connor days, I seem to feel the world a little bit more clearly. When most of us can be aware of five (plus or minus two) things at any one time, I seem to be able to be aware of ten things at a time. The world appears in Panavision. Colours are sharper. Tastes are stronger. The merest breeze from a passing car is felt like a hurricane.

These are the days where I just want to stand in the sunshine, head back, eyes closed, feeling the rays on my face and the breeze in my hair, taking in the pure joy of the world.

These are the days where I wish I could play the guitar and sing about life with the passion of a banshee - like this...

These are the days when I wish I was able to live out the words of this song, to wander through life wearing a pair of old Doc Martens, a leather jacket, a slash of slut red lipstick and a devil may care grin.

Sinead O'Connor days are when the world just makes a little more sense than normal - when I can feel every molecule in my body and I wish to share the beauty and the passion and the pain that is life.

Like with this song.

For some reason, when I feel like this - which thankfully doesn't happen that often - on these days where I feel so quintessentially alive, I feel like I want to be able to sing like Sinead O'Connor.

Slightly barking, very left of centre, happy to hug the hell or kick the crap out of the world in no particular order, dancing to the beat of my own drum.

And it feels bloody marvellous.

A few hours on - the sensation has dulled a little. I'm dressed ready to go out to dinner with friends.

My poached eggs and smoked salmon on wholemeal English muffins, drizzled with chilli jam tasted AMAZING.

I've been to see Blarney and the boys, the Maow Maow using the opportunity to use me for a bath chair.

I've been for a shop and a coffee with Teddie and Jonella.

And I'm out to an amazing dinner at a restaurant with friends - which is most marvellous indeed.

I was described as a sensitive steamroller by a workmate the other day.

Sinead O'Connor is a bit of a sensitive steamroller.

Maybe, just maybe on these days I'm letting my very self come to the fore.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What is the Collective Noun for Word Nerds?

I've been off air for a bit, taking a well earned break from blogging and from life. I had a bit of a mini-break - which was much needed and most excellent.

Saturday morning, after a bit of a drama with getting myself and my bag on the same plane, I arrived in Sydney for the annual conference of the Australian Society of Technical Communicators.

Okay, you're nodding off now...

Actually, it was brilliant. I spent a full day communing with a whole heap of people who are just like me. People who dig out double spaces from documents. People who know the difference between the passive and the active voice (What, there are people, of whom you know, who have awareness of the active voice?) People who know how to do a v-lookup, insert tables and right justify text. The folk understand the turn of a beautiful sentence and the joy of uncomplicated brevity.

I was in my element.

Just listening to the conference title is enough to put you to sleep, but for us word nerds, sessions on indexing, controlled language, diagrams, eLearning principles among other things, is manna from heaven.

Arriving late was a bit of a bummer - being bumped off my early flight to one an hour later meant I missed the first two sessions of the day. A colleague who was at both days of the conference said that I'd missed what was an excellent day of sessions on the Friday - and that these were a wonderful bunch of people.

Which they are.

Until now, I didn't know what it was like to be around a group of people with a similar skill set to my own. People who are quite happy to look a manager in the eye and say things like, "This document makes you look like a complete twat." People who get angsty when they watch others try and justify information in a table, without header lines. People who understand that comma placement is vital (i.e. Grammar - the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you're shit.)

How do you pacify a tech writer?  Their, there, they're....

Yes, hand on heart, I enjoyed my day surrounded by fellow word nerds.

Though I wasn't happy with the answer I got to the question of what was the collective noun for Technical Communicators? You have a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows, a parliament of owls, a ponder of philosphers and a conflagration of arsonists... is it a conjunction of grammarians and a worship of writers? but what of Technical Writers - this odd band who are into things like indexing, diagrams, controlled language, wikis, version control... What is our collective noun?

After a fascinating, sometimes funny, sometimes outlandish day, I made my way back to my hotel for the night - absolutely knackered. Thankfully my hotel room had a large bath tub and a big bed to enjoy for the night.

For the next three days I spent some time mooching around a Sydney beach, drinking coffee, relaxing, reading and walking, taking in the occassional gallery and just chilling.


Four days off in a row. Brilliant.

And a selfie for you. You can tell ints me by the fork toes on my right foot.

I came back to Melbourne just as the Melbourne Cup was being run and thunderstorms were about to hit, still pondering the collective noun for technical writers.