26 December, 2009

Happy Boxing Day

Boxing day is the laziest day of the year.  It's a day of eating leftovers and watching cricket.  The family managed to rouse ourselves for a couple games of Jenga which became very silly very quickly (no, just because you're an engineer that doesn't mean you can put a balcony on the Jenga tower) but most of the day was spent sprawled around the television.

I can't engage my brain to write a blog so I have resorted to Lolcats.  This will buy me some time. 

21 December, 2009

The Sugar Doll Bloggers Award

I have been presented with a challenge.  If I can list ten things things about myself that nobody in blog land knows I can have an award.  And I do love an award.  Do I get to do a speech at the presentation ceremony?  As I am a narcissist I jumped at the opportunity to discuss the subject I spend so much time thinking about ...  - me.

1. I have a birthmark on my right leg that didn't appear until I was seven.  When it first turned up I thought it was dirt and I would try to wash it off.  Being covered in dirt was pretty normal for me at that age.  I was a messy child.

2. I have no appreciation for poetry.  I know this makes me a philistine but I just don't get it.  If you have something to say, just say it.  Don't flounce it all up and stick in some some hidden meanings.  I do, however have a favourite poem that I would like to share with you:
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair
So he wasn't fuzzy wuz he

3. I was born in the year of the monkey.  Monkeys are lively, interesting but are also troublesome and rebellious.  Monkeys tend to be accident-prone.  We can forgive, but we never forget and we can be vengeful.  Does this sound like me?

4. I can't bake scones.  Both my grandmothers were founding members of their local branch of CWA and I all I can produce are nasty little dough rocks.  I have shamed my family.

5. My second toe is longer than my big toe. A bit ugly.  A bit weird.

6. My favourite artist is Jeffrey Smart.  I don't know alot about art but there is something in his work that captivates me.   Anybody who worked with me in my previous job will see great irony in this.

7. I want to travel to Syria and Jordan before some idiot starts a war there and blows it all up. 

8. I sing along with Doris Day films.

I just blew in from the windy city
The windy city is mighty pretty
But they ain't got what we got, no sirree

It's not pretty, but its fun.  You know you want to sing along with me.

9. I dislike horses.  When most girls desperately want a horse, I desperately wanted to get rid of one.  My cousin's pony had been brought out to the farm and it was my job to exercise it.  It was a nasty, angry animal which suffered from short horse syndrome. It got it's jollies by disappearing over the horizon after dumping me on my arse.  I hated it and it hated me. 

10. When I was a kid I had a pet duck that thought it was a pigeon.  It used to fly around with the pigeons that would hang around the farm and would perch on the roof of the wool shed. This was not a small duck.  It was a muscovy duck that should have been too heavy to leave the ground.

That's my ten pieces of fascinating information.  It's might be nine too many (I'm sure everybody wanted to know about my duck).  I'm a bit impatient so I have helped myself to the award rather than wait for the awards ceremony (monkey trait).  I would like to thank my sister, Jacinta, at Live Life Now for giving me the opportunity to talk about myself.  It probably shouldn't be encouraged.

One final thing. 
With this award comes the responsibility to pass it onto other worthy bloggers.  I am new to the world of blogging and I ask your patience while I delay this responsibility until I find my space in the blog-sphere.

20 December, 2009

The Quest for the Perfect Steak

I have a problem. Which is more important in a restaurant: the food or the service?

I'm a bit fussy about steaks. Ok, more than a bit fussy, I'm down right obsessive about it. Screwing up a steak is a crime and anybody who murders a good steak should be whipped to within an inch of their lives (yes, I feel quite strongly about this).

Living in Southern Sydney presents a challenge. It seems no restaurant is capable of cooking a medium rare steak. I have travelled from one end of the Shire to the other searching for a decent steak only to be let down time and time again. Nobody was prepared to serve anything thing less than well done. I have always thought that “well done” is an interesting term for completely destroyed. It's like saying China was “well done” after Genghis Khan popped in to say hello.

I had one particularly depressing incident when it took over an hour for the waiter to bring me my steak. As soon as I attempted to cut it I realised it had been cooking for the entire time I'd been waiting. I couldn't take the let down of a bad steak again and I knew that I had been defeated. I was going to have to travel further afield if I wanted my steaks a little bloody.

It's often the case that a major breakthrough happen when you least expected it. Last night I went to a restaurant I had driven past a thousand times and never thought to try.
“What the hell” I thought, “I'll give it go”

I was a little nervous at first. There were no table cloths (one of my prerequisites for a decent restaurant) and the only thing adorning the table was a can of salt, the type you see in fish and chip shops with the screw on lid with holes in it. My nervousness increase after the order was taken and I was given a steak knife that resembled a Bowie knife. This was one serious knife and could have easily been used to kill a bear. What sort of steak required a knife that would have made a Gurkha proud?

The steak arrived. I prodded it a little with my serious knife, pushed it around the plate with trepidation. It looked ok but there was only one way to tell. I made the first bold cut.  There it was .... perfection.  My heart sung with joy! Finally I had found my Nirvana. The searching was over. I felt like the Crusaders standing on Temple Mount looking over the Holy Land (ok, I might be getting a little carried away here).

I was in such a good mood after the thrill of finally getting a medium rare steak that I was going to lash out and have a cheese platter to finish. It was to be the perfect close to a wonderful meal.

And that's when it all started to go wrong. The waiters mystically vanished. It was like we had outstayed welcome and we were expected to lock up on our way out. Our empty plates were eventually cleared and I waited for the staff to return with the obligatory “Would you like to see the dessert menu or would you like some coffee?”

Waiting ...
Waiting ...
Waiting ...

It never happened. At first I was patient. I still has my post-steak after glow and nothing was going to upset me. But that couldn't last. I was ready for a little piece of cheese on a cracker and when I finally realised that it was not going to happen I felt robbed. I became surly and wanted to sabotage the can of salt by unscrewing the lid so it falls off next time someone picked it up but it was obvious that it wasn't going to be a waiter who picked it up. From my seat I could see the entrance of the kitchen and when I saw the waiter sitting back having a laugh with the barman, I snapped.

“We're leaving.”
           "But what about the cheese?”
“Stuff the cheese. We're going.”
          “But I was looking forward to the cheese...”
“I don't care.  We're leaving.”

By the time I managed to get the bill I was furious. I had to send a message that they had ruined the perfect steak experience with their crappy service. I left a $1 tip.

15 December, 2009

If you knew sushi like I knew sushi...

I went to a Japanese restaurant for dinner tonight.  This may not sound like to be a big deal, but it is for me.  For most of my life I have avoided eating Japanese food. I would make excuses like “I don't eat seafood” or “it's too expensive”. The reality was I was a scared of it. I had never seen sushi until I had moved to the city and there was no way I was brave enough to eat raw fish. I'm not normally a culinary coward. I will try anything and live by the mantra that you can't say you don't like something unless you've tried it. I have tried some truly disgusting food in my time. Japanese food, however, always seemed beyond me.

I'm sure you're thinking this is nuts and not long ago I came to same realisation. Enough being a chicken! I have been gradually introducing myself to the delights of Japanese food.

The Japanese have a great sense of humour. I'm sure they sit in their kitchens watching closed circuit television images of their patrons punishing themselves with their meals. My first real challenge was pickled ginger. It's so pleasingly pink and so thinly sliced to entice you to try it. The first taste is a delightful reminder of ginger bread men as it sits delicately on your tongue. And then it hit you … the burn. It comes from nowhere and you can never be ready for it. There is a cluster of taste buds at the back of your tongue that have been especially designed for the entertainment of Japanese waiters. Most of your tongue is fine except this one spot which feels like you have eaten lava.

One of the things I have discovered as I travel along life's journey: Green is the colour of evil: Frankenstein, the Wicked Witch of the West , Linda Blair's vomit and wasabi. I was warned about wasabi. Go easy I was told, but nobody actually defines what quantity “go easy” actually is. How does something you eat turn into a searing pain behind your eyes? It gets into your sinuses and decides it's going to kill you. No warnings can prepare you for this.

Have you noticed you are always given more wasabi than is safe to eat? I come back to my earlier point: the Japanese have a great sense of humour. I am developing a deep respect for the waiters who can serve a plate of sushi with a delicate little blob of wasabi on the side and walk away with a straight face. They know how this is going to end. I'm going to hurt myself. It happens every time. I suspect they are in a hurry to get back to watching the close circuit TV to see how much damage I can do to myself. I'm sure they take bets to see which client they have to resuscitate.

My last hurdle in this voyage of discovery is sashimi. The dreaded raw fish. My fear of raw fish is irrational and I wasn't going to let this beat me. I like my steaks cooked rare so why does raw fish worry me? My first few attempts ended in complete failure. I could not bring myself to eat it. I was a complete failure. One monumental day I decided I could no longer let this beat me. With trembling hands I balanced a piece of sashimi on the crappy disposable chop sticks, closed my eyes and took a bite.

“What happened next?” I hear you all eagerly asking. Did my face collapse inwards in horror at encountering the most vile of foods or did I transcend to a world of culinary joy with the most exquisite flavours ever encountered. Well, nothing happened. It didn't have much of a taste. I went through all that anguish only to find out the flavour was quite subtle and I had made a mountain out of a mole hill (again).

I'm happy to say I have conquered my fear of Japanese food and to celebrate I would like someone to take me to Tetsuya's. Any takers?

13 December, 2009

Fold, Tuck, Stick, Turn, Fold, Tuck, Stick

I'm not too busy at the moment so I put my name down to be a gift wrapper at a local department store. It was something different and I'm into trying different things right now.

Before being let loose on the unsuspecting Christmas shoppers I needed to attend a training session. This was run by couple of old-hands who have probably seen it all. Ten minutes was spent on how they want you to wrap the presents and an hour and a half on discussing what to do when things go wrong. It was a valuable session. At the end of the training session we had some spare time and someone thought it would be a good idea to try wrapping something awkward. A soccer ball was produced and we willing students attacked it with festive gusto. I can honestly say that I have never seen a sadder looking gift in my life.
Lesson learnt: if someone hands you a ball tell them you are too busy right now but they can leave it and come back later. Make sure the time you arrange is after your shift has finished.

Day one of gift wrapping was quiet and most of my time was spent on setting up the booth and making a supply of boxes. The boxes were my first unexpected problem. I was handed a pile of pre-cut cardboard with a few creases showing where a fold should occur but no instructions on what sort of origami technique is actually required to produce a box. I'm not a big fan of instructions normally but I like to have the option of ignoring them rather than being given nothing at all. After a great deal of experimentation and a few tears I have come up with a user guide for future box producers:
  • Using your right hand fold in side 1.
  • Using your left hand fold in side 2 which is opposite to side 1.
  • While still holding the sides 1 and 2 with your right and left hand, fold in side 3 with your chin and tuck the corner pieces of side 3 under sides 1 and 2 with your tongue. Take care not to drool at this point as making the corners soggy will ruin the finished product.
  • While holding sides 1, 2 and 3 bring your knee up and fold in side 4. Lift your knee up over your head and tuck the corners of side 4 under with your toes.
  • Put the finished box under the counter where nobody can see it.
Perhaps I'm a little judgemental but I firmly believe there are some things that should never appear under a Christmas tree. So when a punter proudly hands me a singing trout to be gift wrapped I find myself struggling for festive and heart-warming things to say (and I'm not often rendered speechless). I quickly realised I needed a collection of pre-arranged comments for these occasions:

I didn't know you could buy these here.
(translation: You shouldn't be able to buy these anywhere)

I have some ribbons here that are going to make this look wonderful.
(translation: This is going to need a special effort from me to compensate for the fact you haven't gone to any effort at all when selecting this gift. And if I tie the ribbons hard enough I might just manage to break the sucker and save Christmas for everybody)

I don't think this will fit in any of the boxes and I could probably do a better job wrapping this in paper.
(translation: the boxes cost $5, your gift didn't. You're getting paper.)

There was one final thing that I was unprepared for: Endless version of Jingle Bells being played over the PA. I'm used to be bombarded with Christmas carols at this time of year, and I have been know to sing along, but after many hours I started to realise I was hearing one particular carol that kept playing over and over again. It seems that every Christmas album ever released has a version of Jingle Bells and after a while it stops being funny. At one point while in the middle of a wrapping frenzy I snapped and all Christmas spirit left my body. I looked at my punter with a desperate and manic look and said:
“This has to be the worst version of Jingle Bells I have ever heard. I don't care if it trendy, Jingle Bells should never be hip-hop”

As it gets closer to Christmas we gift wrappers will get busier and busier and I won't have time for my normal cynical thoughts. If you see a gift wrapping booth over the next few weeks don't be scared to get some wrapping done. Not all wrappers think like me. They will think your $2.50 crocheted doylie is just adorable and they will be singing along to the Christmas carols with genuine enthusiasm (doof doof – dashing through the snow – with my favourite ho – doof doof). It's unlikely you will get me was your wrapper as I'm most often found under the counter trying to extract my tongue from fold 4 without drooling.

09 December, 2009

Happiness is a Thunderstorm

There was really good thunder storm last night. You know the type … it starts with a stillness in the air as the storm builds and you hear the slow rumble in the distance. Bolts of lightning momentarily blind you and burn an image on you retina. This is followed by thunder that you can feel as it rolls through the clouds . Awesome! I have a bit of a thing for thunderstorms and I love being outside and watching the drama. Only one problem – to really appreciate the spectacle of a thunderstorm you need to be out in the open. Not such a smart place to be in a storm but it's worth it.

The first problem with being outside in a thunderstorm is you are going to get wet. Harden up! It's just water. Ok, so maybe sometimes the water can be a little chunky and icy if you get a bit of hail. This is a good time to get your car out in the open and do that insurance job you have always wanted to do to get the paint work fixed. A word of warning if you are standing in the rain:- don't look up. Getting smacked in the eye with one of these big fat rain drops you get at the start of thunderstorms is a more than a little disconcerting (you can take my word on this).

There is a tiny tiny little risk that by standing outside during a thunderstorm you might get hit by lightning. I got to thinking about this: -What if you could also get struck by lightning when you were indoors? Maybe then it wouldn't be so crazy to be outdoors in a storm. So I did some research on the internet and if it is on the internet then it must be true.

You can be struck by lightning while in the shower. Lightning
can strike a building and the surge can flow through the water
pipes while you are under the shower head. Try explaining that to
your plumber (if you can still talk). This is also the case when
taking a bath or washing the dishes. This alone is reason never to
wash dishes again.

Lightning can get you if you are talking on a landline
telephone during a storm. Lightning hits the wire and goes
straight to your ear. If you need to ring a friend to tell them
there is an awesome thunderstorm maybe you should ring on a mobile
phone or yell really loud.

I also found some dud myths out there in cyberspace. My favourite is: An acorn at the window will keep lightning out. WTF??? It would need to be a pretty big acorn. Someone was having a lend with this.

I have some sage words of advice for you if you decide to experience a thunderstorm out in the open as nature intended it. I have learned from a bitter experience you need to make sure you take your house keys. Yes, caught up in the joy and excitement of watching a storm I didn't notice the wind had picked up. There was an immediate sinking feeling when I heard the sound of the door slamming behind me. It was a rainy night and any locksmith who wasn't afraid to get struck by lightning while answering the telephone was going to charge the national debit of USA for a house call.

I will save the story of how to break into my house for another blog.

04 December, 2009

Nasty Little Critters

I don't like spiders. They make me nervous with all those legs. So it was a nasty surprise when a particularly ugly spider fell out of the clothing I was folding this morning. Disturbingly it fell out of one of my bras. Just too close for comfort.

While I was trying to regain control of myself the spider raced across the floor looking for a dark place to hide, build a web and raise a family of ugly little junior spiders. Stirred into action by the thought of this, I raced to the kitchen looking for insect spray. As to be expected in an emergency there is never any insect spray to be found. Plan B: grab a plastic container and put it over the top of the spider to stop it from going anywhere. Having done this, courage failed me completely and I couldn't bring myself to carry the spider outside and release it to the wild. I am now typing away in the study while there is a spider doing circle work in one of my prize Tupperware Modular Mates. Every now and then I have a quick peek to see if it is still there (it is) and then I scurry off to hide in another room. Are you wondering why I just didn't dispatch the spider with a trusty shoe? There is one thing I dislike more that spiders and that is squished spiders. **shudder**.

I don't want you to think I'm a snivelling coward. Snakes don't scare me, I've been scuba diving with sharks more times than I can count and I have travelled to some pretty dangerous places in my time. I'm not scared of spiders – just nervous and uncomfortable. There is, however, one thing that scares me senseless and I am about to share with you one of my darkest secrets. I have never told anybody this before: I am scared of drains.

It hasn't always been this way. As a kid I could crawl in and out of a drain without the slightest fear. The deeper and darker the better. One day that changed. That was the day I saw IT.

IT is a movie based on a Stephen King novel. I'm not great watching horror movies at the best of times. I have a very active imagination and struggle to be able to tell myself “don't worry, it's not real”. I'm going to be very honest here and admit that IT scared me shitless.

I have loaded a short take from the film to try and explain this. I'm hoping it is the right video because I'm too scared to watch it and make sure.

The weird thing is this movie should have made me scared of clowns. Being scared of clowns is almost normal – they are pretty freaky. No, clowns don't bother me. They're just out of work actors who have reached a level where they will sell their dignity for food. Drains chill me to the core. I only have to look at them and I get a knot in my stomach. If I park my car next to one without realising, I have to find another parking space. I can't get out of the car and step over the drain – something could grab my ankle and drag me in or I could just fall in by myself (more likely considering how clumsy I am).

It has been quite cathartic sharing this with you. If you ever see me suddenly change direction and veer into the oncoming traffic while crossing the road, I'm not trying to kill myself. It's just I would prefer to take on a bus than step over the drain onto the footpath.

Other than this, I'm almost normal.

02 December, 2009

Predatory Parking

Christmas craziness has started. It's the 2nd of December and I can't get a parking space at the local shopping centre. This depresses me greatly. It's time to adopt a different approach to finding a car space: - Predatory Parking.

Predatory Parking the practice of driving around and around until you see someone leaving the shopping centre and returning to their car. You drive slowly behind your ex-shopper until they reach their car. You can't get too close to them because if they stop suddenly you will run over them and you will never get their parking space. You need to keep close enough to send the message “I'm really desperate and if you mess me around on this I may not be responsible for my actions”

I have a few hints that might help you develop your predatory skills:

1. Choosing Your Mark.
Being able to pick a shopper (known as the Mark) who is going to give you their park can be an art form.

Bad Marks:
  • Men carrying lots of shopping.
    There is a warning sign here. Men don't carry lots of shopping bags. They don't operate like this. They go to the shops, buy the one thing they need and leave. You will find the man carrying lots of shopping bags can't take it any more and has decided to sit in the car until it is all over. Upon advising his wife of this she has said “fine, you were annoying me anyway. Here, take these bags back to the car.”
  • Mothers with Small Kids.
    This is a risky mark. Kids take a long time to strap in and it is more than likely that just as mum had got all the kids and shopping loaded one of the kids will inform her that he really needs to pee. You could be waiting a long time for this park.
Good Marks:
  • Young Women.
    Young women have the stamina to shop all day without having to do a mid-shop offload of their bounty. They only leave the shopping centre when they are done. Never before.
  • Single Blokes
    They can't get out of there fast enough. Great mark.
Even the best mark can lead you into a dead end as I found out today. I picked the perfect mark: a young women striding confidently through the car park. I assumed the slow stalker position about 10 metres behind her. I slowly followed her the length of the car park until I was edging towards the back wall. I was getting excited … we are it the back corner, her car must be here some where. And then in a flash she changed direction and bolted up a set of stairs to the next level. Godammit, I hate being toyed with.

2. Defending your Mark
There is a moment of weakness in predatory parking where you are exposed to having you carefully stalked parking space nicked by a scavenger. A scavenger is someone who doesn't have the patience and skill to stalk themselves so they rely on momentary loss of concentration from the predator to steal their prize parking space. Much like a hyena – and equally repulsive. The moment of weakness is when your mark has left the parking space but you haven't yet positioned your car into a parking manoeuvre. The scavenger will pretend not to see that you have been waiting patiently and will try to get into the parking space before you. They must be stopped at all costs. Reversing furiously towards them will often frighten them away.

I encountered this on the weekend. A scavenger was sniffing around our freshly identified parking opportunity. I needed at act quickly to frighten the scavenger away so I started waving my arms around and making threatening gestures. I even shouted some abusive comments but since the windows were all closed it's unlikely that this was very effective. Only after I defended the prize park I was told that the scavenger wasn't actually after our space and that she was waiting for another space three cars away.

Sadly predatory parking is more stressful than I can handle and it is best to just avoid the shopping centres for the next month. Where would we be without the internet? Santa is coming to you digitally this year.

What is that I hear? Did someone say I could always catch public transport? BAHAHAHA – get realistic! I live in Sydney!