Sunday, 26 January 2014

Australia Day

I remember explaining the term 'bogan' to a Greek friend, phrasing it beautifully to coincide with his bronzed skin, sunnies, wifebeater, boardshorts and thongs. (Un)fortunately he was too cultured to fit the definition more than outwardly. 

This year I explained the term again. This time to a lovely American who was joining us on our venture to the South Perth foreshore to watch the Australia Day fireworks. It was a term I felt she needed to know for it defined the type of person she might expect to see during the course of the evening. This was particularly the case as the case of a serious glassing on the South Perth foreshore was still a vivid memory even if it had happened a few years ago now.

When we arrived, I'll admit I was pleasantly surprised; the area was very family friendly and filled with groups more than happy to curl up on a picnic rug and wait for the sun to die and the light show to begin. Perhaps it was being away for several years. Perhaps it was lowering expectations. I don't know. 

Unfortunately as the sky blackened and I hoped to have my assumptions proved wrong, people with a very unAustralian spirit proved my expectations to be all too appropriate. Groups of people would arrive at the last minute and stand before you, looking towards the river wondering which inch of grass they could squeeze their arse onto. Or they would kneel on the footpath, in front of a family of small kids, their heads popping up right into the midst of the exploding fireworks. 

One girl (hopefully subsequently named and shamed on Facebook) arrived late and parked herself at the very front before loudly commenting that the people behind her (people who had arrived at least five hours earlier) were going to be disappointed when she stood up to take photos (not that she even knew how to operate her camera). And it wasn't as though she needed to extend her tripod and stand up as the fireworks always explore above us allowing you to sit cross legged on the grass and tilt the whole contraption back to point upwards towards the stars. 

I wouldn't mind so much if this behaviour were typical of new Australians; ones who didn't as yet know the typical Australia Day customs and where they were expected to look (for fireworks here are different to the ones overseas), people who just needed a friendly word to help them assimilate with with new countrymen. Unfortunately I don't find this to be the case. Those who were the worst offenders were young, selfish and identifiably Australian. 

If only they weren't, for I personally don't want to be associated with such behaviour... particularly when it ruins Australia Day for others. 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

I Love London in the Springtime

Only the other day, I was discussing with a friend the beauty of Europe in the Spring. She'd never seen it.
With Europe an 18 hour flight away (from the near side of Australia), and flights being of a significant cost, she'd always visited during our summer, when Uni and school were out for two or three months, allowing for sufficient time to experience a chunk of any planned route. Travelling in their winter also meant cheaper accommodation, fewer tourists and for West Australians, unfamiliar weather thrown into the mix.

What it did mean though is that you missed the transformation of Europe. The sudden change from grey and miserable to the brightest, happiest colours imaginable. And this is just London.

Kensington Palace:
Visiting in early spring, I have more photos of this small sunken garden than I do of the Palace, which says a lot. It was just a pity that this was cordoned off from public access as it looked to be the perfect retreat.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Scouring for Kitchens

While I love visiting historic houses, there are a couple of rooms that always draw me in more than the others. While the bedrooms are beautiful, the sitting rooms sumptuous and the ballrooms breathtaking, it is the kitchen and the library that provide the most delight.

With regards the kitchen, I'm not sure if its because it is a room I spend so much of the free time in, thereby combining my love of cooking with my love of the past, or because it is one of the essential rooms that shows at the inner workings of the house or castle.

Unfortunately in many houses the kitchens have either been commandeered by the attached cafe and therefore have been modernised to necessary levels of safety and efficiency (Strawberry Hill, Musee Jacquemart Andre...), or are still in use by the current resident (this accounts for the absence of the kitchens of Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle...). This means the pickings are limited, but there are still some beauties out there, and it makes stumbling upon them even more exciting.

The first place I remember displaying such a fascination with the kitchen was on a tour of France with my mother, where we visited the Chateau of Chenonceau. Constructed as a bridge over the river Cher, the kitchen was secreted away almost at the water level, built into the supports of the bridge.

Chateau de Chenonceau, France

Studying Libraries

While I love visiting historic houses, there are a couple of rooms that always draw me in more than the others. While the bedrooms are beautiful, the sitting rooms sumptuous and the ballrooms breathtaking, it is the kitchen and the library that provide the most delight.

With the library, I'm not sure if it's because I love reading or because I have quite literally grown up surrounded by books. The shelves in my bedroom are overflowing, the wall above the four metre long desk in the family room, covered to the ceiling, and two of the walls of the lounge room are covered from floor to ceiling. And that's not to mention the boxes of books waiting for a space of their own.

Wandering around old houses/palaces it's delightful to see; not just the number of old books, but also the rooms in which one hopes the owners would to curl up on a sofa and devour each book, cover to cover.

Dating from a time when personal libraries were a status symbol, just how many of these rooms were designed with something more intellectual in mind?
How many  of these books were part of a personal collection, hand picked over the years as opposed to ordered by the yard when the room was being designed?
Has the room been adapted for the purpose, or are the books just a part of the decor; a vain attempt to make a foppish man look more intelligent than he might otherwise be?

How many rooms would I happily transpose into my own home, the perfect junction of my love of history and knowledge?

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Year's Day Fireworks

It appears to be one of our best kept secrets; the New Year's Day Fireworks on the Shelley Foreshore with one friend asking how she had never heard about them before, despite her love of fireworks and habitation in the area.

Avoiding the crowds at the east end of the shore, we settled at the Rossmoyne end with a picnic dinner while we waited for the sun to set and the fireworks to begin. 

As we snacked on pate and brie on the shore, kids splashed around in the river enjoying the warm afternoon sun while further up river moored boats welcomed friends who'd swum out to meet them.

As the last rays of the sun slipped behind the trees and the river was infused with soft blues and pinks we were joined by more friends and more people drawn to the quiet peacefulness of our patch of foreshore. With cameras primed and mounted, we waited for the show to begin, and amidst the awe and delight tried to capture as much as possible without taking our eyes of the spectacle.

Happy New Year!!

Market Cravings

I want to go back to Spitalfields Markets, the one near Liverpool Street Station.

It's not because there's a chocolate shop there; there is and it has some rather nice truffles, even if I do say so myself.
But it's because of one of the stalls there, a baked goodies stall piled high with a delectable array of sugary goods. However there is one thing in particular that stands out; the pyramid of Loukoumades, deep fried doughnut balls drenched in a honey syrup.
With a paper bag of six, I'd wander around the remains of the market nibbling on each one in turn, savouring the crunchiness and the contrast with the eruption of the syrup into your mouth when each one was bitten into.
They never did last long enough for me to get a photo.

The other market I miss is Borough.

It is the foody market in south London, providing tables of fruit and vegies, fresh seafood, baked goodies, olives, lollies, meat (fresh and preserved), cheeses, bags of assorted chocolate truffles... all clustered near Southwark Cathedral under the tracks leading north from London Bridge Station.

It also possessed a tangle of alleys lined with stalls from which one could procure the most delicious food, provided one was willing to join the end of each queue. It felt as though there was everything under the sun, including exotic hamburgers, melted cheesey potatoes, paella, fresh oysters...

However my absolute favourite was the caramelised duck and rocket with hot mustard on ciabatta roll. It was from one of the many stalls with a lengthy queue, but the moist sticky flesh, full of flavour, teamed with the bitterness and heat of the rocket and mustard are amazing; one of those dishes that others see and wish they'd bought themselves.

Always a fan of duck, I discovered it on my first trip to Borough Markets and must admit to buying it again and again on each subsequent trip.

When the crowds inevitably became too much, we would gather together our purchases and begin the leisurely stroll upstream towards the Tate Modern and St Paul's, or cross the Thames to wander in search of a sunny bench where we could sit to enjoy the rest of our treats.

Caramel about to devour a Portuguese Custard Tart 

... provided the ravens don't steal them from you.

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