About GiddayfromtheUK

A 40-something Aussie sheila who packed her swag and moved to the UK in 2004, I write Gidday from the UK which provides a glimpse into the 'everyday moments' of my expat life.

Reasons why

I spent last weekend at a three-day property symposium at the Birmingham NEC.

I had travelled up to Birmingham on Thursday night to make sure I got checked-in and unpacked ready to start Friday morning. If you’ve been following UK news reports over the last few weeks, you’ll know that the weather here has been a little different from what we are used to so as I was greeted by bone-chilling wind and swirling snow on arrival, I bailed on the planned walk to the hotel and jumped in a cab. As we trundled carefully along the icy dark roads, I had no idea how I was going to find my way back in the morning.

It stayed icy for the next three days so each morning I’d layer up like a pass-the-parcel prize – jumper over long sleeve top over singlet, wool tights under jeans, thick socks under sensible walking boots all topped off with my warmest snow-coat and beanie. I’d walk around the corner to the Drop and Go at the Airport and get a cab to the exhibition centre. Then I’d reverse the process each evening.

After three long and full days, I was both buzzing and completely spent. Mercifully my trip back to London on Sunday night went smoothly and when I got home, I dropped my bags inside the front door and crawled happily into my own bed. That meant I spent Monday sorting myself out. I tackled several loads of laundry, a pile of unopened post and the stream of unread emails. I planned my week, allocating time in my calendar to prepare for things coming up and to follow up on all of the to-dos from the weekend.

I was beavering away when the doorbell rang. I get a lot of people ringing the doorbell during the day trying to sell their charities, ideas, political affiliations, etc. and if I’m not expecting anyone, I don’t answer the door. But when the bell rang a second time, gut instinct told me I should see who was there.

Look at what the nice man at the door delivered!

Aussie snacks

It was veritable cornucopia of Aussie delights. Burger Rings, Twisties – both chicken- and cheese-flavoured ones – a bag each of chocolate and liquorice bullets and Caramello Koalas, and two each of Crunchie and Cherry Ripe chocolate bars. Yippee!

As I was reverently unpacking it all and exclaiming over each nostalgic favourite, I found something more.

tim tams header

Chicky's tim tams

Yes! My very own super-sized packet of Tim Tams!

In lieu of my being Down Under for Christmas, it seems that my sister (Lil Chicky) had taken it upon herself to deliver a little bit of Down Under to the UK, gathering a whole lot of my favourite Aussie snacks and sending them across the sea. And the timing was perfect, taking me back to our time in Paris together and reminding me why I’m launching myself into the world of property investing.

Back in November, I had just completed my three-day basic property training and had committed to a two-year elite mentoring and training program. I knew nothing about property but I did know that I wanted to build a different financial future for myself. One that would give me some choices about how I spend my time in the years ahead – whether that’s in having the freedom and security to choose a job that I love and that fulfils me, building a portfolio career through contracting and non-executive director roles or pursuing some of my personal passions in education, mental health and travel.

We’d had about three weeks notice of her trip and between her getting on several planes and me whizzing across the channel on Eurostar, we’d managed to rendezvous in the Latin Quarter, make our plans and soak up as much as two erstwhile Australians ambling through the last shreds of Autumn in Paris could manage.

We were sitting on the top deck of the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus on our first morning. It was dry, blue-skied and quite sunny yet the wind was icy – but the top deck is the best place for photographs so we had wrapped ourselves in beanies and scarves and taken our seats upstairs.

I was watching her take photos, leaning to get the best angles as the bus tootled around the sights and I had a thought that stopped me in my tracks: I could not have done this if I’d been working. With three weeks notice, I might have managed to wangle a three-day weekend, working my tail off to get things done beforehand and planning the trip at the same time. But my mind would have been filled with everything I hadn’t quite managed to get done before I left and wondering what would be waiting for me when I got back.

Instead there I was, my ears warm and toasty under my new beanie and the tip of my nose red with cold, completely present and hanging out with one of my favourite people on the planet. It was a moment of pure joy…and also one of clarity. I found myself thinking, ‘moments like this are what I want my life to be about’. To spend it with the people that matter most to me, to make a difference in what I do and to invest time in the things I’m passionate about.

The moment was brief and poignant – and it has stayed with me. Over the last couple of months, I have embarked on my property journey in earnest, preparing my strategy, travelling to investigate a number of investment areas, building my network of contacts, researching the people I need in my power team right up to attending last weekend’s Symposium and booking my first viewings for later this week.

All new and scary things to me.

And what keeps me pushing forward are my reasons why, the very ones that were delivered in a moment of blinding clarity on the top deck of a tourist bus in Paris.

Some little bits of what I fancy

London has a lot of museums and galleries and many are free but sometimes it pays to spend time getting to know a particular museum well.

One of my favourite museums in London is the V&A. It bills itself as the world’s leading museum of art and design but what I love is the way that the V&A uses these themes to bring stories to life. Exploring the diverse history of different parts of the world or dissecting the nature of our society and the environment we live in through the lens of human creativity and expression is a wonderful way to spend a few hours.

I’m at the museum every couple of months for the V&A book group and always go early, thinking I’ll pop into an exhibition, explore a specific gallery or take one of the free guided tours to make an afternoon of it. And in ambling around, I’m usually delighted by something unexpected: the view from the top of a newly-discovered staircase or a fascinating item tucked away in an unbidden nook or cranny.

In a place where there’s so much to see, I’ve come to realise that it pays to wander with only the semblance of a plan, to linger and read about the things that simply take your fancy. It also pays to look around – that’s up, sideways, around corners and behind you.

Here’s why.

Dale Chihuly’s Rotunda Chandelier – the Grand Entrance

If you look up as you enter through the main museum entrance from Cromwell Road, it’s hard to miss Dale Chihuly‘s spectacular 27ft (8.2m) sculptured-glass chandelier suspended airily above the information desk.

V+A Blown glass chandelier

The Rotunda Chandelier in the museum’s main reception, viewed from an upper gallery at the top of a staircase I’d never climbed before.

V+A C-up Rotunda chandlier and clock

The view looking up from the information desk on the ground floor. I’m feeling very grateful for the excellent zoom on my camera phone – look at all of that exquisite detail and the individuality of the glass elements.

The chandelier comprises 1,300 blue and green hand-blown and mould-blown pieces – these were made in Chihuly’s Seattle studio and then took five days to assemble – in situ – over the chandelier’s steel frame.

Every time I visit and look up at it, I want to take another photo. It’s definitely one worth lingering over.

Es Devlin’s The Singing Tree

Last December I planned for my visit to include a wander around the Opera: Passion, Politics and Power exhibition near the new Blavatnik entrance on Exhibition Road. However, the tunnel entrance from nearby South Kensington tube station had been closed so I’d been forced to make the 10-minute walk to the museum above ground.

Glad to escape the damp grey day outside, I breathed a sigh of relief as I dashed through the Cromwell Road entrance and tore off my woolly scarf and hat…only to be pulled up short by an hypnotic display of sound and light.

V+A Singing Xmas Tree

As part of the V&A’s annual Christmas programme, set designer Es Devlin combined modern innovations like crowd-sourcing and machine-learning to conceive this Singing Tree. Installed inside the Grand Entrance between 27th November 2017 and 6th January 2018, museum visitors were invited to contribute a festive word or two that became part of this mesmerising audio-visual carol.

The video doesn’t reproduce the carolling voices very well but believe me, being greeted by this after braving a cold and blustery December day was a complete joy.

Rachel Kneebone’s 399 Days – Medieval and Renaissance Galleries (room 50a)

I had arrived a little early for one of the free gallery tours that leave from beneath the Rotunda and rather than stand around waiting (remember peeps, I will never be British enough to wait when I don’t have to), I decided to amuse myself by meandering around the neighbouring gallery.

Rachel Kneebone‘s pillar of legs and arms caught my eye almost immediately.

V+A Sculpture gallery Kneebone's 399

399 Days is a five metre tall column of writhing porcelain figures and it looks pretty interesting from a distance. However it was in getting up close that it became fascinating and I lost the entirety of my 15-minute early-ness poring over the intricacies of this extraordinary piece.

Julian Melchiorri’s Exhale – the Members’ Cloakroom

This surprising gem hangs above the members’ cloakroom desk (which is up the staircase behind you as you come in from the museum’s tunnel entrance). It’s a pretty enough piece but it wasn’t until I read the wall plaque that I really got excited about this one. Peeps, this is a breathing chandelier.

V+A Exhale chandelier

Designer and V&A Engineer-in-Residence Julian Melchiorri combined advances in biotechnology, engineering and architecture to come up with this life-affirming bionic chandelier. The ‘leaves’ of the chandelier contain microalgae: when they are fed with water they remove carbon dioxide from and release oxygen into the surroundings.

(Remember learning about photosynthesis in those high school biology lessons? This is pretty much it peeps.)

Its location is a bit tucked away but don’t be put off. It’s easy to get close to and you’ll be able to spot it as you come up the aforementioned stairs or down the staircase from the upper floor of the European Galleries.

Even as I sit here typing this, I still feel absolutely thrilled by how clever this is – it also makes me wonder how it could be applied more widely in our increasingly polluted world.

Paul Cummins’ Sixteen Poppies – opposite the Members’ Cloakroom

In 2014, the Tower of London marked 100 years since Britain entered WWI with a temporary installation – called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red – where 888, 246 of Cummins’ hand-made ceramic poppies were planted in the tower moat to represent each of the British military lives lost. Five million people visited the installation between July and November 2014 after which the poppies were sold and the proceeds donated to six service charities.

V+A Red Poppies

The sixteen poppies on display just opposite the Members’ Cloakroom were purchased by the V&A as a tribute to the sixteen members of its staff who died in the War – their names are also inscribed on a memorial tablet at the Main Entrance on Cromwell Road.

Main Cafe, designed by James Gamble, William Morris and Edward Poynter

And finally, when all is said and done, there’s nothing better than having coffee and cake in the glorious historic rooms of the museum’s main cafe.

V+A Cafe montage

The Gamble Room

The museum’s founding Director, Henry Cole had learnt a thing or two about public refreshment while running the Great Exhibition in 1851 and believed that a museum restaurant would be a way to encourage people to enjoy culture. Well ahead of other museums (that did not invest in catering until the 20th century), Cole invested in the world’s first museum restaurant at the V&A, opening the Gamble Room in 1868 followed by the opening of the Poynter and Morris rooms on either side.

These three rooms form the hub of the V&A’s main cafe and any of them are an especially pleasant place to rest your weary legs after wandering around the galleries. If you are lucky, someone might be playing the piano in the Gamble Room. In any case, I’m  a big fan of the restorative benefits provided by their Black Velvet cake…

black velvet cake 1

Black velvet – that means chocolate Guinness cake with Prosecco frosting peeps.

Oh yes, that’s definitely something I fancy and it’s not for sharing!

In the meantime, if you fancy a cultural boost to your creative spirit, I’s recommend a visit to the V&A. And if you are a fan already, please leave a comment and let me know what little bits of the V&A you fancy…and where I can find them!

The joy of faffing

It’s a chilly old Sunday here in London and I’m tucked up under a cosy throw wondering what I am going to write.

Somehow I’ve landed in this small pause and with the busy-ness of the rest of February ahead of me, I’m trying to make the most of it. But waiting is an odd feeling isn’t it? I can see my careful plans ahead of me but am forced to pause, itching to get on with things. I find it hard to do nothing and in the absence of something to do, I’m prone to a bit of faffing.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, faffing means busy-ing oneself with unproductive or nonsense activities. Case in point: I was looking up an appropriate definition of faffing for the link in the previous paragraph when I learned of an alternative definition – apparently faffing during freshers’ week refers to a particular form of – ahem – acquainting oneself with a university’s newest arrivals.



Anyway in thinking about February so far, it has dawned on me that it has been quite the month for faffing. (Of the nonsense kind – keep it clean peeps!)

It’s been a month where the weather has swung between the crisp blue-skies of below 5⁰C and the giddying heights of double-figure days. Last night it reached 10⁰C – that’s after a week of nights below zero – and for fear of over-heating, I removed the extra blanket that’s been on my bed for the last two months. But today it’s been sleeting on and off, there are snow showers forecast for this evening and the mercury is slated to dip back to zero again by tomorrow morning. With the weather faffing about like this, the blanket needs to stay within easy reach. So I faffed about this morning, draping it carefully over the end of the bed to ensure I could roll it up-and-over or fold it back-and-across as needed from my position beneath the duvet.

It remains to be seen whether my bare feet will survive the transition from my cosy new slippers to blissful sleep…


…or whether I will be forced to faff about with bed socks.



Then there’s the clothing conundrum, i.e. the number of layers required to venture comfortably outside the flat. Do I wear the padded ‘sleeping bag’ coat or dial it back to the flannelette-lined waterproof (not seen since Paris in November) and layer-up underneath? Will my ears be warm enough beneath my raspberry knitted beret or do I need my woolly beanie – with pom-pom of course – to keep my shell-likes toasty?


I’ve miscalculated a bit lately and have ended up faffing about en route, desperately managing scarves and on-again-off-again headwear in an effort to reach the optimum level of toastiness. And the result? I’ve turned up more unkempt/sweatier than I would have liked. And that doesn’t include the hat-hair.



So here I am, tap-tap-tapping away at Gidday HQ. The television has been blinking away across the room and has segued from Colombo to Miss Marple to The Durrels with the snug complacency of a winter’s afternoon best spent indoors. I am looking forward to tonight’s regular telly – a bit of vicarious ice-dancing (courtesy of Dancing on Ice – yes I know the Winter Olympics are on) before finding out how it all turns out in the final episode of BBC’s latest slow-burn thriller, McMafia.

In the meantime I have some batch cooking to do for the week ahead. I’m thinking about reading a chapter or two of my latest business book (Not Just Lucky) or maybe more of the Aussie tale (Kate Grenville’s The Secret River) that’s got me completely hooked. I could always continue with my recent flurry of clean-outs, embarking on a new drawer or cupboard to explore, cull and reorganise. Or there’s my Amazon Watchlist – it beckons with a list of movies “soon leaving Prime” (where they are free to view) that I’ve earmarked for soon-ish viewing.

But here I am, still faffing about writing this blog post instead.



Seems to me it’s the perfect way to spend a Sunday.

Read anything good lately?

If you’re a regular here, you’ll know that I’m prone to wittering on about books every so often. Sometimes this is inspired by an author interview or literary festival. At other times something I’ve read will have seized my imagination or evoked such a swell of nostalgia that it’s inspired me to some wordsmithery of my own (like in my recent post, Sacred Places).

Reading is one of my passions – in fact if you asked me the one thing I would never give up, it’s reading – and 2017 has been a stonking year on the reading front. In January I set myself a target of 60 books for the year…and ended up reading 118. (Website for the book-ish Goodreads informs me that equated to 43,369 pages. Phew!)

I use Goodreads to rate and review everything I read and to follow some other like-minded souls. I also participate in the Ultimate PopSugar Reading Challenge, an annual list of at least 50 themes to read against – last year’s included a book set in a hotel (I found Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford) and a book from a genre/subgenre you’ve never heard of (I discovered paranormal fantasy via the Goodreads-recommended The Rook by Daniel O’Malley) – that pushes me to look ‘off radar’. Rating and reviewing also helps the Goodreads algorithm-thingy to shape their recommendations for you – I have found some wonderful, off-the-beaten-track novels this way.

My average Goodreads rating in 2017 was 3.7 stars – which falls somewhere between good and great on the Gidday scale of literary love. Here’s a pie chart for the statistically-minded amongst you:

Goodreads 2017 ratings pie chart

The good news is that I finished everything I read last year, so no-one was awarded the ignominious 1-star rating reserved for the ones that I can’t / won’t finish. However, that’s not to say that there weren’t disappointments. I gave nine books 2-star ratings and of those there were four – Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, Emma Cline’s The Girls, Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies and Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles – that I hope I never set eyes on again.

At the other end of the spectrum I awarded 5-star ratings to 21 reads…

5 star reads 2017

…and 4-star ratings to 51 reads. That means 72 books – or 61% – of last year’s literary exploits ranked somewhere between fabulous and life-changing.

I revisited some of my favourite writers in 2017. There were heart-pumping thrillers from Dan Brown (The Lost Symbol), David Baldacci (The Guilty) and Matthew Reilly (The Great Zoo of China). Robert Harris and Bernard Cornwell brought the conquests of ancient Rome and the Vikings to life in Imperium (Cicero #1) and Warriors of the Storm (The Saxon Stories #9). And there were poignant past-meets-present tales from Barbara Kingsolver (The Prodigal Summer), Joanne Harris (Different Class) and Kate Mosse (Sepulchre).

I also discovered some new favourites. I romped happily through Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay in January then returned for seconds in April with The Final Solution. Australian writer Jane Harper had me feeling nostalgic for the hot, dusty smells of the Australian outback with her debut, The Dry while Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent turned out to be a luscious mix of myth, social mores and a woman ahead of her time. Robin Sloan introduced me to Mr Penumbra and his extraordinary bookshop while A.S. Byatt’s masterfully-drawn cast of characters held me in their thrall throughout The Children’s Story. All five writers are on my to-read list for 2018.

It wasn’t all about fiction either with 18 of my reads tackling subjects across history,  politics, food, technology, psychology, society and the future of humanity.

I spent some time immersed in tales of the future reading Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (scarily prescient given it was published in 1970) as well as Noah Yuval Harari’s much publicised histories of today and tomorrow, Sapiens and Homo Deus. I delved into politics with Nick Clegg’s Politics: Between the Extremes and on the social psychology front, devoured Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind with relish. Mark Stevenson’s We Do Things Differently was a fascinating look at some of the forward thinkers – and tinkerers – of our time while Jay Rayner’s exploration of his (and our) relationship with food in A Greedy Man in a Hungry World gave me a lot of food for thought (just couldn’t resist that pun). And reading The Silk Roads (Peter Frankopan) in January and From the Holy Mountain (William Dalrymple) in December meant that I inadvertently book-ended the year with tales from the Byzantium…and got my travel juices going.

I read about some women of note too: Royal women like the wife of Charles I, Henrietta Maria (Cavalier Queen) and Katherine Swynford, the paramour of John of Gaunt. I read about literary women, such as poet Emily Dickinson (The Lonely House) and author Jane Austen, as well as women succeeding in the world of men – from Pope Joan in the 9th century, through to Katherine Johnson (Hidden Figures) and businesswoman Karren Brady in the modern era.

There was also some unexpected weeping in my local cafe over prize-winners A Little Life and Fugitive Pieces. And the compelling stories told by Liane Moriarty in Big Little Lies and Jay Asher in Thirteen Reasons Why inspired some comfy-couch time and box-set binge-ing in an effort to recapture what I loved about the books.

What a year it was.

And now you know why, when you ask me, “read anything good lately?” I pause. It’s such a big list to choose from. So it is with this post that I offer you my answer.

“Yes, yes I have.”

So fill your boots and enjoy peeps – and don’t forget to return the favour.

Have you read anything lately that shook your world?

I have provided links to Amazon UK for all my recommendations. It seemed the most common place to send you to access reviews and/or purchase. Of course other websites are available as are bookshops – and don’t forget the shelves of your local charity shop – if that’s your bag. And if you happen to be on Goodreads, you’ll find me here…make sure you pop by and say gidday!

Setting the tone

This morning I was lying in bed listening to the radio. English TV presenter Davina McCall was being interviewed and she mentioned that she ‘loves a new year’, that it was a time of ‘getting on with it’ after the world winding down over the Christmas period. I found myself nodding in agreement from beneath the duvet.

There is something insistent about a new year, isn’t there?

Wherever I am at this time of year, whether Down Under with family in Melbourne or at home here in London, I like to give a nod to the year just gone. This time around I’ve been enormously grateful for the time and space that my end-of-2016 redundancy has given me. 2017 has turned into something of a watershed year. It’s been a year during which I wondered how a life without a job – and the structure that a job brings – might look. It’s certainly been a year of reflecting and exploring what I’m passionate about.

And the first of these is reading.

Yes I’ve been indulging my passion for the written word, reading like a mad thing and finishing the year with 118 books under my belt. At the same time, I’ve tried to challenge myself by reading more widely and I’ve tackled books that have been confronting, uplifting and gripping. Some have been boring, some have been surprising. But for the most part, they took me to new places, immersed me in new stories and left me curious, inspired and hungry for more.

Then there’s learning.

I’ve introduced myself to the world of MOOCs, embarking on the first structured learning I’ve had in over 25 years. I relished the return to economics and development – a subject I loved at high school – and dived into the untested waters of democracy and development in Africa and an introduction to philosophy. It inspired me, taught me, challenged me and frustrated me. What I didn’t expect to learn is that I have a better capacity for self-discipline that I thought.

I’m also passionate about making a difference. Regular readers might remember that in June, I took on my first non-executive director role by becoming a school governor – answering a personal calling to support and guide the young people who will live in the environment/society we are leaving in our wake.

I’ve also been travelling, exploring places like York, Edinburgh and Muscat (Oman) for the first time as well as revisiting old haunts – Oxford and Canterbury in the UK and then Paris with Lil Chicky in November. And on the home-front, I’ve shone some light into a few culinary black spots and added some new made-by-me staples to the Gidday pantry.

That’s not a bad year. It has certainly been a busy and stimulating one so like everyone, I enjoyed the luscious slow-down of the pre-New Year week. But once I could see January on the horizon, just like Davina I was itching to get stuck in again.

So it’s time to tackle 2018.

I’ve already added a new batch-recipe staple to my culinary repertoire – a delicious chicken bhuna curry – courtesy of a pre-new year visit to the Waitrose Cookery School.

bhuna curry montage

Left: The version I produced under supervision (with some sticky rice and made-by-Kym chapati); Right: The batch made at home was an absolute treat. The three leftover portions froze beautifully and kept me well-fed for a week.

I’ll be continuing to expand my aesthetic horizons this year and am off to the V&A Museum next Tuesday. What’s new about that? I hear you say. Well, I’ll be off with my brand spanking new V&A Museum membership – a Christmas present from Mum – tucked safely in my pocket.

VAM membership pack

The membership pack was almost as much fun to open as the promise of free exhibitions and other membership perks!

On the reading front, I’ve signed up to read 70 books for the year on Goodreads – including something from all 50 themes on the PopSugar Reading Challenge 2018  list – and am looking forward to some unexpected gems from my V&A Book Group. And after a few years of donating, I’ve finally made the acquaintance of the bookshelf at my local charity shop.

Book stack

I loved Byatt’s The Children’s Book (a V&A Book Group read from last year) so was chuffed to find Possession on the shelf. Grenville and Amis are authors I’ve never read and let’s face it, at less than £1.50 per book, I can afford to explore some new literary horizons.

I’ve also taken my first steps towards being a property investor, attending a 3-day strategy builder course last weekend, booking in for some courses on Buy-To-Let and Multiple-Occupancy over the coming months and getting stuck in with some research.

And of course my governor activity will continue in earnest as we embed last year’s initiatives and embark on some exciting new projects in 2018.

So with all of this setting the tone for the year ahead, I’ve bought some new stationery…


Setting the (b)right tone for the year

Isn’t it lovely?


It’s going to be a bright and shiny 2018 peeps – I can feel it already!

Sacred places

Christmas is done for another year and we are coming to the end of that strange hiatus before the new year begins and life gets going in earnest again.

It has been four years since I spent a Christmas at home and flying solo meant that I could plan a completely selfish day, with absolutely no-one to please but myself. The day was filled with favourites: foodie treats (croissants – check, duck-fat roasted potatoes – check, Pat’s mango fruitcake – check), chats with loved ones Down Under and some Singin’ in the Rain (so full of joy and well, Gene Kelly peeps, what’s not to like *sigh*). There was also a luscious stretch of comfy-couch reading and some seasonal happy telly in the form of the Strictly Come Dancing and Great British Bake-off Christmas specials.

This year, the big day also fell smack-bang in the middle of a marvellous six days cocooned at home. I spent many glorious hours snuggled under a cosy throw catching up on movies I’d meant to see and snacking on cheese and home-made fruitcake (not together). And there was plenty of time to indulge in my favourite thing to do – reading. As far as I am concerned, there’s nothing like losing yourself in a good book and for six days, I found myself utterly engrossed in a tale of adventure, mysticism and history – From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple.

From the Holy Mountain

When From the Holy Mountain was published twenty years ago in 1997, I had just started travelling. Egypt had been a passion of mine since I was 14 years old, so much so that a career as an archaeologist had held quite some allure. Unlike others I knew who’d set off post-Uni to backpack around Europe, I went to work, saved my pennies and splashed it all on an escorted group tour through Egypt.

Over two mind-blowing weeks, our tour group travelled between Luxor and Aswan listening to stories of ancient rituals and dynasties, wandering through temples and bazaars and scrutinising endless statues and heiroglyphics. We then returned to Cairo for a couple of days and early one morning four of us took a camel ride up through the dusty streets and around the great stone peaks of the world’s most famous tombs, the mighty Pyramids of Giza.

The next day our bus made a stop there on the way back from Memphis and when our guide mentioned that we’d have enough time to go inside, I jumped at the chance. To my astonishment, the rest of the group elected to stay by the bus taking photos so I joined the file of tourists entering the shaded entrance and climbed determinedly up the stone ramp to the inner chamber.

After fifteen minutes the corridor narrowed until it was only wide enough for one person to pass through. I waited patiently until it was my turn to ‘duck-walk’ under the couple of metres of low ceiling-ed passage before the chamber. I stood, stretched my legs gratefully and moved away from the entrance to let a waiting group leave. As the last person crouched into the low space behind me, their exit stemmed the incoming flow of visitors for a couple of minutes and I was left alone in the chamber. In the dim light, a broken sarcophagus hunched darkly to my right as I gazed upwards to the chamber roof soaring above me. My skin prickled and I stood awestruck by the stillness, by the silence and by the sheer moment of standing under something built 4,500 years ago.

Had I read Dalrymple’s tale back then, I would probably have wanted to spend much longer and venture much further afield than my two weeks allowed. Twenty years later, the part of the world he writes about in From the Holy Mountain fascinates me. It was home to the grand and glittering Byzantium, an empire that stretched from Greece and through Constantinople (now Istanbul), crossing the Bosphorus into the vastness of eastern Turkey, turning south through Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine and finally swinging west across the Sinai Desert into Egypt.

Following in the footsteps of two 6th century monks, Dalrymple’s memoir took me on a five month pilgrimage from Mt Athos in Greece to the Great Kharga Oasis in Upper Egypt. His historic references and stories – taken from accounts of John Mochos and Sophronius’ journey – added a fascinating richness but more than that, Dalrymple’s vivid prose brought to life the distinctive landscapes and peoples he encountered along the way. Scattering these amongst his own discussions, interviews and reflections created this wonderful sense of being alongside him as he travelled. This was his pilgrimage, a chance to slake his obsession with the monks’ journey he had read about years before – and it reminded me of mine taken in the shadow of a 13 year love affair with Egypt all those years ago (albeit mine being much shorter than his).

I stayed buried in Dalrymple’s story of civil wars, displaced peoples and sacred places for almost a week, the memories of my first adventure flooding back and the itch to travel welling inside me. I felt like I was on a wonderful journey and that my life was richer for having read this book. As I closed the final page and added this extraordinary travel memoir to my literary favourites, I made myself a couple of resolutions – to learn more about these ancient worlds and to get Dalrymple’s In Xanadu onto my to-read list.

So here’s to a 2018 full of sacred places to discover and new worlds to explore – have yourselves a happy new year peeps!

The best bits of Paris

In November, I met up with my sister in Paris.

An opportunity had come up for her to attend a conference there and after some last-minute hunting for flight (her) and Eurostar (me) deals, considerable fossicking around on accommodation websites and much emailing, we managed to cobble together a pretty fabulous rendezvous for ourselves.

It was not my first trip to the City of Light – that was way back in 2000, and I’d been three times since (as a tourist, that is) – but this was the first time I’d visited so late in the year.

Temperamental to the core, Europe’s grand old dame put a pretty formidable foot forward, for the most part shrouding herself in icy-grey light and a bone-chilling wind. Occasionally she would toss her drab cloak aside, yielding a few hours of brisk blue sky before her grey mood returned. But Autumn had smeared its dazzling colours over her tree-lined boulevards, smattering her towers and turrets with its trademark reds, oranges and golds. We were enchanted.


L to R: Jardins du Luxembourg; Les Jardins du Pont Neuf (taken from the Padlock Bridge); behind Notre Dame Cathedral

I mentioned before that this was not my first trip to Paris but for Lil Chicky it was. As with all first times, there are must-sees-and-dos so a long[ish] list made its way across the world and based on what I knew – and a rather tight planning window – I made us a bit of a plan.

Disclaimer: I do not profess to know Paris well, not like some other people I know. But those ‘others’ have given me some cracking recommendations for my previous visits – my last trip was in 2013 and involved pootling around some lesser known places in between hours spent reading in sun-drenched parks or lingering at outdoor cafes watching the world go by.

So here was my dilemma: How should I balance the new versus the I’ve-seen-it-before, the I-need-to-see-everything against quiet moments of contemplation and reflection that for me make Paris…Paris?

It turned out to be easier than I thought. It had been so long since I’d done the first time things that it was a real treat to go back and do them again. And in most cases, we managed to add a little something extra. So hang on to your woolly hats peeps, here’s your armchair tour of my best bits of Paris.

The Hop-On-Hop-Off (affectionately known as HOHO) bus drove us around the city sights for a couple of hours on Sunday morning and we got some great photos particularly of the ferris wheel on the Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower.

Bridge and Eiffel Tower

The following afternoon we joined a small skip-the-line group (skip-the-line is so worth paying for – I will never live in Britain long enough to love a queue), so were on la Tour Eiffel just as night fell. The city lit up before us and with the tower glowing and sparkling above us…

Eiffel Tower

Far right: Standing on the second level as the light show happens.

…we got the lift right up to the summit (a first for me, very windy and VERY high – over 1000 feet!). We treated ourselves to a [plastic] glass of [expensive] champagne to toast our efforts – it would have been rude not to.

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One morning we spent an hour visiting the stunning Sacre Couer Basilica in Montmarte…

sacre couer

…then strolled through Place du Tertre, its cobbles dappled with easels and Autumn colour. We walked back down the hill of Montmarte via Rue Lepic, stopping to admire the local art and architecture along the way…

Montmarte Artists

…before pausing opposite the Blanche Metro at the bottom for a cheeky photo of the Moulin Rouge. Many years ago I went to a show in this area but have never stopped here during the day – the Pigalle district doesn’t look anywhere near as risque in the daylight.

Moulin Rouge

On a another afternoon we wandered up the Champs Elysees to the Arc du Triomphe…

Arc du Triomphe

…then climbed the 284 steps to the top for the most spectacular views of both Paris and the star-shaped Place Charles de Gaulle below us. We booked our skip-the-line tickets just as we arrived so were able to show them on our phone and walk straight in and up. Definitely my top pick for Paris views.

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On our last morning we spent a few hours at the Louvre Museum wandering through the extraordinary palace building and admiring a few of its most famous exhibits…

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…as well as some not so famous ones (yet!).


I laugh out loud every time I see this photo!

We visited the breathtaking Notre Dame Cathedral…

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…and the 13th century royal chapel on the Ile-de-la-Cite, Sainte-Chapelle.

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Map in hand we stalked the famous, and infamous, at the Pere Lachaise Cemetary…

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…and throughout our stay in Paris, found a few ways to honour those that we’ve loved, and lost.

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A month has passed since I let myself into the snug hotel room at Villa Pantheon and hugged my sister hello. We went on to create so many wonderful memories. For five days, we ambled through the boulevards, avenues, gardens and alleyways of Paris together. We walked until we didn’t think we could walk anymore, falling into our beds each night with aching backs, feet and legs only to get up and walk all over the city again the following day. We drank wine, got lost and explored (not always in that order). We laughed – sometimes until we cried (there may have been a ridiculous hat involved) – and ate far too much cake than is considered good for a person.

Paris cakes

L to R: Our trip to the fabulous Angelina on Rue de Rivoli (with special Aussie friend); our discovery of an Angelina outpost at the Louvre and its location-themed special; this absolutely divine tarte tatin at Brasserie de la Tour Eiffel was scrumptious – the cake of trip for me!

But above all, we surrendered to the joy of simply being together…

Arc du Triomphe Paris 2017 2

…and that peeps was definitely the best bit of Paris.

Breath taking

It’s Sunday and again, the world seems to take a breath and sleep a little later.

It was quiet just after 8am when I was roused from sleep. I lay cocooned beneath the covers for a few indulgent minutes, burrowing into the warmth while I drifted gently towards the morning. No radio alarm. No noise from the neighbours. No sporadic chatter from passers-by on the footpath outside. No rise and fall of traffic hum in the street. Time to wallow in the quiet stillness, in that sweet, sweet spot – you know the one – before nature calls, the covers are thrown back and the day begins.

I finally sat up, swinging my legs over the side of the bed and into my slippers. There was an unusual stillness in the air and my heart skipped hopefully as I padded towards the window and drew back the heavy curtain.

Before my eyes lay a world transformed: Fat white flakes swirled down from the insipid sky and settled softly over a garden already shrouded in white. It was a scene of such silent and untouched beauty that it was a few seconds before I realised that I was holding my breath.

It was snowing…

Snow on the Gidday patio

Snow on the wall

Snowy trees 1

I stayed by the window for a while, feeling the smile crinkle the corners of my eyes and child-like wonder fill my heart.

The MET office has been forecasting snow in the UK for a few weeks but a fall and subsequent settling like this in London is unusual. Just last week, a flurry of snowflakes wafted around me as I walked to a meeting and I thought that might be as much as we were likely to get until the New Year. But this is proper snow (for London anyway), one that took a deep breath in the dark hours of last night and then covered my Sunday in a blanket of white.

Snowy trees 2

Snowy rooftops

Even the neighbour’s cat has been over to explore…

I know I won’t be alone in my snow-posting today (and not everybody will have such romantic notions as I do) but I can’t help myself. There’s something magical about it, the way it quietly transforms the world. I can see the snow still falling from my spot here on the comfy couch and I keep interrupting my tapping to wander over and gaze out the window again.

Days like these fill me with a quiet, simple joy and there’s always room for a bit more joy in the world.

So stay warm peeps and have a breathtaking Sunday.

The busy-ness of life

Gidday peeps!

Sorry I’ve been lax on the posting front of late. It’s been a bit busy since I got back from stopping in Muscat seven weeks ago and while I managed to have a little rant about burgers in my last post, finding the time and head space to craft something more has proved a challenge. But I wanted to let you what’s been happening here at Chez Gidday.

First things first – I finished my fourth MOOC, this time on Democracy and Development in Africa, on 14th November and achieved 94%.


This was quite a hard going course in terms of workload. In each of the seven weeks we were asked to complete several pieces of work – a mix of video lectures and interviews, reading, questions, discussions and essays – which was then capped off by a 3-part exam in the last week. Let me tell you there were many times when I cursed myself for signing up in the first place and then for not being able to walk away and let it go.

But in catching up with a close friend a couple of weeks ago, he complimented me on my commitment and acknowledged my self-discipline as a real strength. Interestingly, one of my reasons for doing these MOOCs was to ensure that my self-discipline ‘muscles’ stayed active. So I’m glad I stuck with it and am proud to say I have the certificate of achievement – as well as a whole lot of new ideas and opinions – to show for it.

My school governor role has really taken off as well. I’ve been attending the monthly marketing meetings as well as making my first visits with each of the dance and the drama curriculum leads at the school. I’ve also spent a day and evening completing my new governor induction training as well as the mandatory safeguarding training. So I’m now in the thick of it and really enjoying it.

Speaking of getting into the thick of it, I took part in an intensive 3-day Property Investment seminar at the beginning of November and also attended the Rethink Mental Illness Members Day the following weekend. Both are areas I’m very interested in exploring over the coming months. Needless to say I don’t think there’ll be any more MOOCs for a while.

Then amongst all of this was my usual smattering of out-and-about-ness.

On the culture front, I had my first ever visit to the Affordable Art Fair

…and spent another afternoon at the V&A immersed in their latest exhibition Opera: Power, Passion & Politics.

Both are areas I know little about so I really enjoyed having my eyes and my ears opened and my cultural horizons challenged.

The last seven weeks has also produced a couple of excellent theatrical highlights with the Donmar Warehouse’s production of The Lady from the Sea (by one of my favourite playwrights Henrik Ibsen) and INK (the story of Rupert Murdoch’s purchase and transformation of The Sun newspaper in the UK). And as regular Giddayers know, I love dance so it was with great delight that I went to see BalletBoyz’s Fourteen Days (and was especially moved by the intimacy of Christopher Wheeldon’s piece, Us). Then last weekend I was completely mesmerised by the provocative musical Cabaret that is touring regional theatres in the UK at the moment (and stars singer Will Young as the irrepressible emcee).

Literary-themed events got a look-in too with a walking tour of Fleet Street – called Publish and Be Damned! – on a rather chilly Saturday.

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There was also the chance to listen to readings from the Man Booker Shortlist authors the evening prior to the announcement of the prize winner, the British Library’s annual Equality Lecture by Professor Mary Evans and Gresham College’s free lecture on the wonderful Jane Austen, the last a welcome follow up to the Jane Austen exhibition I visited in Oxford earlier this year. I also went to some fascinating talks about The Future of Work, Artificial Intelligence, The Fight Against Alzheimers and The Future of our Digital Selves.

But amongst all of this, there was one lowlight.

As a long-time Agatha Christie fan, I had been looking forward to seeing Kenneth Branagh‘s remake of Murder on the Orient Express. But it had a different storyline and while the cinematography was gorgeous, the whole film was a bit ponderous and suffered from style-over-substance syndrome. As far as I am concerned, no-one writes Christie better than Christie so in tinkering with her work, Branagh’s effort left me feeling a bit flat.

And then last week I squeezed a 5-day rendezvous in Paris into proceedings (more on that later)…

…so maybe the word smattering was a bit of an understatement.

Not to mentioned that December 1st is only two sleeps away – when I get to open the first window of Mum’s annual advent calendar and put up the Chez Gidday Christmas tree…

*excited squealing*

So stay tuned. There’ll be more Gidday adventures coming to the blogosphere soon!

My beef with boards

I am a burger lover from way back. Not the global-fast-food-chain type of burger but full, messy fish-and-chip-shop burgers.

Long sun-kissed days on the beaches of my childhood and adolescence in Australia – Bribie Island and Caloundra just north of Brisbane; Mills, Seaford and Point Leo beaches in Victoria – were regularly rounded off with a visit to the fish and chip shop on the way home. For me, despite all of the feverish battering of frankfurters, fish fillets and potato cakes behind the counter, the hamburger always reigned supreme as the most satisfying of post-beach eating. Watching the staff flip and griddle in the searing heat before cramming that soft white bun chock full of scrumptious stuff – lettuce, cheese, tomato, fried onion, streaky bacon, a fried egg, beetroot and a beef patty – was a joy to behold.

(My mouth is watering even as I type this.)

Aussie beetroot burger

Back then, my burger would come wrapped in a piece of something like thin baking paper and was then tucked and folded into a white paper bag. My portion of hot salty chips came separately wrapped in butcher’s paper and my fingers would have eagerly poked a chip-sized hole in the parcel before I’d even left the shop.

Anyway, back to the burger.

Preparing myself to take that first luscious bite, I’d lean forward and peel back the top of the bag. Holding the burger with both hands and squeezing it from the top and bottom – to ensure it fitted into my mouth – I’d take a huge bite to get the full medley of delicious flavours.

(Mouth is continuing to water.)

Wrapped snugly in its white paper bag, any renegade hamburger juice (I think you call this fat) would dribble back into the bag, leaving my hands relatively clean. And keeping a firm hold on the burger with one hand, with the other I’d pick out the smaller crunchier chips to munch on while shoving the longer, fatter chips into the burger.

Don’t knock it peeps, it’s an art form. And it’s bloody delicious.

Then burgers got a bit specialist with the advent of the American diner craze. Johnny Rockets was big for a while when I lived in Melbourne and other like-minded establishments flourished with their flashing jukeboxes and dancing waitstaff, their shakes and sodas and their baskets and bags – baskets for burgers and bags for chips.

So burgers became a dine-in experience but still with a hands-on approach

Fat Bobs

Currently Fat Bob’s in Melbourne, Australia serves their mouth-wateringly amazing burgers wrapped in foil (retains the heat – clever!) in baskets with the fries alongside. Yes, I travelled across the world for this and it was worth every jet-lagged minute.

Then burgers went gourmet. They came on plates, with knives and forks, and with  buckets for the chips and special dipping sauces.


GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) in the UK is one of my favourite places to eat over here. The burgers are really delicious: a wide range to choose from – which is fantastic now that I don’t eat red meat – and full of great ingredients. (Loads more than the usual offering of some shredded lettuce and a wisp of tomato sauce on a sad white bap that falls apart as soon as you look at it but that’s a rant for another time.)

But I find it impossible to pick the burger up. And in the unlikely event that I manage this, I can never manage to a) squash it enough to take a proper bite and b) avoid the ingredients spilling out.

So a knife and fork are a necessary evil here but happily, the burgers come on plates that are big enough for me to decimate my burger and to tip my chips out of their bucket to join the general melee.

But things go awry when burgers come on boards.

Six months ago, my favourite local restaurant starting serving their burgers on long narrow boards with the burger on one end and a metal bucket with chips in it on the other. Even if I take the chip bucket off, there is not enough room to cut into my burger – which is definitely a knife-and-fork job – and tip a decent amount of chips onto the board. And let’s not forget the ‘thoughtful’ paper – that which lines the chip bucket (why?) and that which lies beneath the burger. After much knife-and-fork wielding, the latter is at best, in the way or at worst, in shreds.

And they are not alone…I found loads of pictures on the internet like the one below.

Burger on a board 1

I mean, what is the point of this? A board is not a nice thing to eat from – no matter what Jamie Oliver and the like profess. And what’s with that stupid salad garnish stack – it’s taking up valuable room and unlike the mug (again, why?) of chips and the condiments pots, it cannot be shifted onto the table.

Interestingly, when I mentioned my frustration to the owner at my local restaurant (I know them well) and requested a plate, he was completely surprised. They had decided to change it, he told me, because they thought it would look nicer for customers. More a case of overthinking the style and completely screwing up the customer experience of eating it methinks!

I wonder when the last time they ate their burger and fries on the board – rather than a plate – was. I suspect they haven’t – or maybe other customers are not as incensed / vocal about this – because when I popped in last weekend, my roasted vegetable and goats cheese burger came out…on a  board.

So much for the voice of the [lone] customer. I’m tempted to persist because it does really irritate me. But can I be bothered? Perhaps I need to let it go, to chalk this up to a small and insignificant battle that’s not worth getting het up about.


In the meantime, would someone please get me a plate?