Watching Aussie TV – without a TV

August 12th, 2007

Old televisionWe don’t have a TV. We had one in the UK, but heard rumours that not all UK TVs work over here, so we sold it in the UK when we moved here in 2002. We didn’t buy a new one here because our UK expat friends tell us that Aussie TV is – to put it politely – not worth watching. Also it’s nice not having a TV – gives you time for chatting and reading. And blogging, of course.

(It also gives you a great excuse when the Foxtel door-to-door mob come a-calling. “Why don’t you want to have Foxtel?” “We don’t have a TV”. “Oh…”)

Weirdos

Interestingly, when we tell people we don’t have a TV, their first reaction is, “Woah, weird!”, closely followed by, “No, good on you – you’re not missing much…”

When we go on trips, though, we love watching the TV in our motel/B&B room. It’s a real treat. We do mostly watch ABC and SBS though – everything else seems absolute tosh. (We did get strangely addicted to Channel 7’s Border Security on our last couple of trips, but it’s still tosh.) Read the rest of this entry »

When your suburb becomes a slum

July 24th, 2007

This is the scene in our street for four weeks every year:

Junk in street

Do I live in a slum? No! This is how you get rid of your junk here in Australia!

In the UK, the councils have a sensible system whereby you ring them up and arrange a day for them to collect all your junk. You put the junk outside your house the night before, and the next morning, it’s gone. Easy, simple, and low-impact.

In Australia, they have a rather different approach: The junk of everyone in the street gets collected on the same day. Twice a year.

This causes two problems:

  1. Your street looks like a council rubbish tip for two weeks before each collection.
  2. Some morons always take the piss and start putting their junk out two months early. Or, even, whenever they feel like it throughout the year. Of course, they can get away with it by saying, “mate I thought it was the council clean-up next week!” (Unsurprisingly, this ruse doesn’t work in the UK.)

It’s insane. Sort it out, Aussie councils!

(Actually, there is one good side-effect of the Aussie way of junk collection: it gives other folks a chance to grab other people’s junk before it gets taken away. It’s an efficient way to recycle your stuff, I guess…)

Wind and dust

July 8th, 2007

Wind and dustOne thing I will say about Sydney – it’s windy, and it’s dusty. OK, that’s two things.

There’s this wind that kicks in around mid-afternoon every other day, which is quite nice when it’s 40 degrees C, but not so pleasant in the middle of winter. We also get a lot of gale-force storms here (partly because we live on the coast, I think). Trees blow over a lot; the power goes off quite a bit.

Then there’s the dust. We noticed this when we first moved to Australia and lived in Pyrmont. Everything gets a coating of greyish dust within a couple of weeks. It’s not the legendary red dust of the Outback referred to in The Thorn Birds; just this kind of dull, grey dust. We get it here on the Northern Beaches too. Maybe it’s down to the prodigious amount of construction work going on all around us – who knows.

Mmm… just had a proper Sunday lunch and a nice glass (or two) of red. I’m off for a snooze.

Sydney public transport is great!

July 2nd, 2007

Public transport logosThis may surprise many people who live in Sydney, but your public transport system is actually really good. Compared to the UK, that is.

I’ve often heard Sydneysiders moan about packed buses, delayed trains, price increases, and so on. You know nothing. Try living in England for a year, then let’s see if you still want to moan about Sydney.

Let the train take the strain

A one-way train ticket from Sydney to the Blue Mountains – a 2-hour journey of nearly 100km – costs $11.60. A one-way train ticket from London Paddington to Reading – a 25-minute journey (assuming the train doesn’t break down) of around 40km – costs GBP 12.90, or around $32.00. (That’s the cheapest possible fare – if you travel during peak time, it’s GBP 15.60, or $39.00.) So you can stop complaining about high Sydney ticket prices.

You think Sydney trains are unreliable? Commuting to London, it would be unusual if the train wasn’t seriously delayed at least once in any given week. I’ve sat in stationary English trains for two hours, waiting for them to get moving again. Read the rest of this entry »

How to find baby change rooms in Australia

June 23rd, 2007

If you’re a new parent like me, you no doubt find baby change rooms (aka parent rooms) in shops and malls invaluable. I recently discovered that you can use the Australian Government’s National Public Toilet Map website (what a great site!) to find change rooms too, although it’s a little convoluted. Here’s how:

  1. Go to the Public Toilet Map site.
  2. Under the Find option, click Near an address, At a point of interest, or At a latitude/longitude.
  3. Click the More Options button at the bottom of the page. The same form reappears, but with more options.
  4. Enter your search details at the top of the form, such as address or point of interest.
  5. Under Toilet Features, check the Baby Change box.
  6. Click the Find Nearby Toilets button at the bottom of the page.
  7. You’ll now see a list of all nearby toilets that have baby change facilities. Under Toilet Details, you can click a toilet link to get full info on the toilet – you should see a baby change icon under Features.

Now they just need a way to rate the baby change rooms out of 10! 🙂

Books, the Dalai Lama, and how to calm a screaming infant

June 16th, 2007

I’ve been a bit slack at the old blogging over the last couple of weeks. This is mainly due to the Photoshop book I’m co-writing, which is sucking up all my time and energy like a black hole. Who’d have thought a 700-page book would take two people 7 months to write. (Ooh, that’s a cosy 100 pages per month!) Well it’s nearly finished now, so soon my life will return to relative normality.

We did manage to snatch half a day off yesterday, and head into the city – with me carrying Zack in the Hug-a-Bub – to watch the Dalai Lama in the Domain (a big park in Sydney). The rain was coming down in sheets so we weren’t expecting much of a turnout, but it was pretty busy. Nice to see the man in person, even if it was on a big-screen monitor from half a kilometre away! He talked about inner peace, dialogue, 9/11, religion and a lot of other stuff that I couldn’t really hear properly. (The rain pelting on umbrellas didn’t help!) He was asked lots of questions from the audience – some good ones, and some daft ones, such as “What can we do to stop our drought?” To which he replied, “You should know better than me!” and laughed his head off. Read the rest of this entry »

Make your home sound like a busy office

May 28th, 2007

Thriving Office CDThis is such a good idea, it’s a wonder no-one’s thought of it before.

If you work from home – as I do – and want to impress your clients, this could be just the thing you need. Thriving Office lets you give clients the impression of a hectic office environment in the background while talking on the phone. It’s a CD with two long tracks: “Busy” and “Very Busy”. Stick it on repeat when the clients call, and lull them into a sense of security as they imagine how successful you’ve become.

You’ll probably want to pause it once you’re off the phone, of course. (Although who knows – maybe industrious office sounds will make you more productive, too? I know it would drive me insane.)

[Via TechCrunch]

Book review: Almost French

May 23rd, 2007

Almost French book coverI recently finished reading Almost French by Sarah Turnbull. It’s an Australian’s account of living in Paris for seven years.

I found it fascinating, for a few reasons. Firstly, its (sometimes terrifying) insight into the French – and, particularly, Parisian – mentality was somewhat of an eye-opener for me. Secondly, as it was written from the perspective of an Aussie – and one who hails from the very area I live in, at that – it gave me a fresh outlook on my adopted country. Thirdly, it was good to read about the feelings of a fellow expat, as she battles with the somewhat shaky concept of “home”.

Naturally, most of the book talks about the French, and Sarah’s life in France. To start with, her impressions are mainly negative. Being treated as a rival and a threat by Parisian women. Being ostracised by snobby Parisians in general. (She learns from a book that it’s best to pretend you’re a chair at social events. That way, “when no-one smiles at you or talks to you … you won’t be surprised.”) Rats scurrying around outside her apartment. (“Voilà le vrai Paris!” exclaims her French boyfriend.) Having to dress up in posh togs just to go to the bakery, in order to avoid being frowned upon by the fashion-conscious French. The drab village where her boyfriend grew up – loved by him, detested by her.

However, as the book progresses, her outlook on her new home changes. She comes to accept – love, even – the Parisian way of life. She gets the hang of the complex etiquette that is often necessary for even the most casual French dinner party. Along the way, she learns just how serious the French are about their food and wine, and has a spectacular feast at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant. She buys a little West Highland terrier, which helps her blend right in with the locals in her district. In the end, she even falls in love with her boyfriend’s village.

Read the rest of this entry »

Australia: A tough country for vegetarians

May 17th, 2007

Chicken saltI’m not vegetarian, but my wife Cat is. She finds it hard going in this country.

She’s not vegetarian for any moral “think of the furry-wurry animals” reason – she just hates the taste (and texture) of meat. The thought of eating meat or its various products makes her sick. So it’s not like she can have chicken “just this once”. It’s no meat, or no food at all.

Trouble is, the Aussie definition of “vegetarian” seems to be “pretends not to like meat, but likes it really”. Cat’s had this conversation in more than one restaurant:

“Here’s our menu, madam.”

“I’m vegetarian. What dishes can you offer for me?”

“You’re vegetarian? Do you eat chicken and fish?”

“Er, no. I’m vegetarian.”

You wouldn’t have thought it a hard concept to grasp.

Quite often we’ll go out for a meal on holiday, to find that only one restaurant in town has anything veggie on the menu. And that will be “stir-fried vegetables” (which Cat is understandably sick of by now). Often restaurants will have a veggie entrée, then the mains will all be meat. (As if vegetarians somehow have smaller stomachs or something.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Need a hand? Ask an Aussie!

May 16th, 2007

No worries! speech bubbleAussies are, on the whole, a helpful and cheery bunch – at least compared to the inhabitants of southern England. (They’re friendlier oop north, so northerners constantly remind me.) The moment I get into London it seems like everyone’s walking around wearing a worried frown, doing their utmost to avoid you. Then, when I get off the plane in Sydney, I see smiling faces and helpful people again. (Provided Australia hasn’t just lost a test match.)

For example, when we first arrived in Australia back in 2002 we wandered around Bondi, and promptly got lost. So we got our map book out. Within seconds we had locals coming up to us, asking if we were lost and needed a hand. There was a connection there immediately. It seems to happen all the time; whenever you need help, a friendly local pops out of nowhere. Total strangers think nothing of coming up to you and starting a conversation. That just doesn’t seem to happen in London.

Shop assistants are generally helpful, too. They’ll often come up and ask if you need a hand – not in a pushy Dixons salesperson kind of way, but in a genuinely interested way. (Cat still hates this – she prefers to do her shopping unassisted – but I quite like it.) Even while you’re handing over your money they’ll happily chat away with you, often mentioning what a good choice you’ve made. Sure, a lot of it is probably good sales training, but they seem quite genuine about it.

In fact, we’ve had a couple of shop assistants that were so helpful they didn’t even care about losing a sale. We went to one department store to buy a washing machine. The guy was wonderfully helpful and explained everything, even getting out the manual for us. Then he said, “Don’t buy it here, though, mate – it’s 50 bucks cheaper down the road!”

Now that’s helpful.